Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is now a widowed mother of two young children thanks to the assassin's bullets that murdered her husband. But not every widow's late spouse was the President of the United States, and now as the nation deals with the shock and repercussions of the attack she must find her place in the world by leading her country in grieving. This understandably is nothing she has ever been prepared for (but would anybody be?), and it's apparent that everyone wants to hear from her to get her take on the tragedy, but the last thing she feels like doing is talking. Her last big interview saw her touring The White House for the television cameras, but here a more sober delivery is necessary as she invites a journalist (Billy Crudup) into her home...
Jackie Kennedy only gave two interviews after her husband died, and valued her privacy ever after, which was why a heavy degree of speculation was necessary to bring her to life here, filling in some pretty large gaps in whatever the filmmakers believed was going on in her mind. She is the source of much curiosity even to this day, though the answer to the big question, "What does a First Lady feel like when the President is killed?" may be more obvious than the proceedings here would have admitted: it feels absolutely awful. One of the best scenes was a short one and encapsulated the entire movie in one stark image: Jackie wiping her husband's blood from her face as she looks in the mirror and sobs her heart out.
You did not really need much more than that, though it would appear it was more than the real Jackie would have wanted to be put out there into the media, as there was a lot stage managed about the public displays that occurred after the murder. The image that everyone took away from the funeral was of little JFK Jr saluting the coffin of his father, an impossibly sad picture, and all the sadder knowing he would not reach his autumn years either, yet curiously director Pablo Larraín refused to place this in his account: could they not persuade the child actor playing the son to salute, therefore did not get the shot? Considering what they did include that was essentially invented, it was a strange omission, especially as we were offered the assassination itself.
This was always an issue with biopics, and an unavoidable one since the nature of the beast dictated shortcuts had to be taken and material had to be concocted that would, the makers hoped, come across as authentic when it was bolstered by the combination of themes and performances. Luckily for this they had Portman, who if nothing else delivered a remarkable vocal impersonation of Jackie, in a cadence that just wasn't heard in the twenty-first century anymore. Many who saw this checked out documentary footage of the actual person to see how Portman measured up, and would hear she was spot on, but if her stylings in the movie were simply amounting to getting the accent right it would have been a hollow experience, as this was not a series of celebrity impressions strung together as a plot.
There were a few recognisable actors essaying the real people: John Carroll Lynch was excellent casting as Lyndon B. Johnson, though did not get a whole lot to do, and John Hurt brought compassion to the role of Jackie's priest in one of his final roles, but Peter Sarsgaard was an odd choice for Robert Kennedy, not looking much like him, sporting an obvious wig, and patently too old for the part. That might sound like a niggle, but it was details like this which could take you out of a film, particularly a careful recreation of yesteryear as Larraín was keen to portray, and he seemed to be making up for the deficiencies in what they depicted but could not have possibly known by adding a surreal, numbly dreamlike effect to events. You imagine that living through a set of circumstances so awful that you could have never envisaged your life running into them would feel like that, if not nightmarish, but the fear was dialled back in favour of the grief and what it was doing to one woman. A psychological mood piece more than a conventional drama drawn from history. Music by Mica Levi, overpowering in places.