Jackie Kennedy is an American icon, but it’s probably for the best that the director of “Jackie,” the latest film about her, is not from these shores. In his first English-language film, Chilean Pablo Larrain — whose visually striking films “No” and “Tony Manero” turned a jaundiced eye to his own country’s troubled history — has made a slow but beautiful, intimate and haunting dive into the despair that follows the death of a loved one.
Perhaps because he’s not American, Larrain may not have felt attached to certain elements of the Kennedy saga. In any case, he has stripped away the standard-issue drama surrounding Nov. 22, 1963, and replaced it with a concentration on Jackie’s emotional unraveling.
One thing’s for sure, “Jackie” is less of a standard biopic and more of an elegy.
Larrain’s gorgeously grim and austere vision bolsters a bravura performance from Natalie Portman in the title role. She inhabits Jackie as a woman who has been shaken to her core with grief but refuses to crumble completely as she struggles to protect her children, the myth of Camelot and her sanity.
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As written by Noah Oppenheim — best-known for the less emotionally gruelling, young-adult “Maze Runner” and “Allegiant” screenplays — “Jackie” is constructed around two conversations. One is an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) and the other is a talk with a priest (John Hurt), while interspersed are her memories of the hours and days immediately following her husband’s assassination.
While Portman is unmistakably the star, the rest of the cast — including Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, John Carroll Lynch as Lyndon Johnson and Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s assistant, Nancy — is also strong.
Shot beautifully by French cinematographer Stephane Fontaine (“Captain Fantastic,” “Elle,” “Rust and Bone”) and with a riveting, downcast score by experimental musician Mica Levi, “Jackie” feels intensely and rapturously operatic.
Small quibble: Wherever the assassination and subsequent rush to the hospital were filmed, they are obviously not Dallas. But, in the wider world of this film’s somber universe, Jackie is pitch-perfect.
☆☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Director: Pablo Larrain.
Cast: Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard.
Running time: 1:39.
Rated: R, for brief strong violence, strong language.