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As if this year’s best actress Oscar race wasn’t already impressive enough, along comes Natalie Portman‘s jaw-dropping portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain‘s Jackie, which is as good as any female performance this year.
Chile-born Larrain’s first film in English, and his first centering on a female protagonist, had its world premiere last week at Venice and then screened on Sunday night and Monday afternoon in Toronto, where it currently is a hotly contested market title. (Fox Searchlight has first and last right of refusal.) Only gross incompetence on the part of whichever operation buys the film, should they release it before the end of the year, could keep Portman from landing a third Oscar nomination. In fact, she’s so good that she might well walk away with her second best actress win, following 2010’s Black Swan.
Jackie jumps around in time, covering, in no particular order, its protagonist’s first solo exposure to the public on the Feb. 14, 1962, TV special “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy“; the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy; the days of personal and national mourning thereafter; and a closed-door interview she granted a journalist (Billy Crudup, playing a guy based on The Making of a President author Theodore White) at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis a week after her husband’s death, from which came the “Camelot” myth.
Most of the time, Portman is onscreen in grand rooms by herself, subliminally conveying the loneliness Jackie felt even before her husband’s death, and felt more than ever in the days after it, when she had to comfort two young children, plan a proper funeral, vacate her home and figure out her own identity without him — all in the public eye. Portman shares her character’s delicate, porcelain features, to be sure, but she had to work for — and nails — the regal poise, purring voice, proper accent, dazed look and frosty demeanor of the public Mrs. Kennedy.
The actress also creates a fascinating portrait of what the real woman might have been like when she was away from the cameras and at her most vulnerable, confiding in her trusted friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), bickering with Bobby Kennedy (a miscast Peter Sarsgaard) and Jack Valenti (Max Casella), pondering life’s meaning with a priest (John Hurt) and trying to shape her husband’s legacy during her on-the-record/off-the-record exchanges with the journalist in Hyannis.
Many recent films and TV programs have dealt with the Kennedy assassination and/or its aftermath, from Peter Landesman‘s 2013 film Parkland to Bryan Cranston‘s 2014 Tony winner turned 2016 Emmy nominee All the Way to Amazon’s 2016 limited series 11/22/63 to another film here at this year’s TIFF, Rob Reiner‘s LBJ. Therefore, some of the scenes in Jackie may feel somewhat familiar. But never have they been done as well as they are in Jackie, which is distinguished beyond Portman’s tour de force work by its cinematography, costumes, production design, score, makeup and hairstyling, which are all top-notch and also will enter Oscar contention when, not if, the film finds a distributor.
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