DATELINE: National Nightmare
Pablo Larrain’s version of the JFK assassination from the close proximity of his beautiful widow comes to us via a South American director with the distance of a foreign eye.
Jackie will not please some Kennedy aficionados, nor worshippers of Mrs. Onassis. It is, however, compelling and frightening to see how this young woman had to deal with trauma and shock in the days after the 1963 tragedy.
Natalie Portman is Jackie Kennedy in her breathy, slight, personal style of what upper-crust means in America. With seamless intercuts of the famous White House tour in black and white, and stunning color footage of the actual funeral, we are given something we do not want to re-live with the unpleasant and distressing picture of a First Lady on a mission.
She might also be said to be on a rampage, wanting the world to see the blood on her clothes and to make herself a target of assassins by marching 14 blocks from the White House to the church. She forced every other world leader to be put on notice as fellow targets.
Most shocking is to see how alone this woman was—left in the White House in the night after her husband’s murder. She wanders the halls, showers off the blood, has a few stiff drinks, and plays Richard Burton singing “Camelot,” full length during her painful peripatetic night.
Peter Sarsgaard plays Robert Kennedy and takes it on the chin when Jackie flies into a rage. Journalist Billy Crudup seems to bait her in an interview, but she gives back in spades. And the unknown priest (John Hurt’s final performance) who tries to comfort her (allegedly Cardinal Richard Cushing) is also hit hard by her anger and cynicism over God and man.
Larrain’s film is compelling docudrama, eschewing conspiracy theories for the human theories. Indeed, Jackie wants to meet Oswald—and learns he too is assassinated.
Whether she means to have a spectacle for her dead husband, or for her own reasons, we may never be certain, but Jackie certainly has her way in the dark days, packing to leave the White House.
For those who lived through the Kennedy assassination, we may be horrified that movies like this will be how young people will learn about “a shining moment,” arranged by Mrs. Kennedy.