Under the Radar

How 'Jackie' Coped After the Kennedy Assassination

Jackie (out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD) is Chilean director Pablo Larraín and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim's take on the days immediately before and after President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination. They explore the story through the eyes of the president's wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) and the entire movie is framed by an interview the First Lady does with a journalist (Billy Crudup) in the days after the president's funeral.

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Portman gives a spectacular (Oscar-nominated) performance that features the kind of finishing-school accent that we never heard in American life anymore. Peter Sarsgaard plays a remarkable Bobby Kennedy, concentrating less on imitating the Kennedy Boston accent and more on the conflicting emotions his character feels after his brother's death.

Screenwriter Oppenheim comes from the news business, working as a producer on Hardball with Chris Matthews and NBC's Today before writing this screenplay. There's a concentration on the mechanics of Washington protocol: How should a new president have been sworn in? When will the Kennedy family move out of the White House? What kind of state funeral should the late president have?

Pablo Larraín was an interesting choice to direct that kind of script. He brings a surreal, heightened reality to a story that could've been filmed in a way that played like most of the plodding TV movies that Hollywood keeps making about the Kennedy family. Jackie Kennedy is filled with conflicting emotions in the film: she wants to protect her valued privacy and yet she wants to make sure her husband is remembered as the great man she believes him to be.

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In 1962, the First Lady gave Americans a tour of the White House in a CBS television special. Oppenheim and Larraín use that event and Mrs. Kennedy's efforts to collect historical pieces for the White House as a theme, returning to recreated moments from the program over the course of the movie.

There's a surprisingly experimental score from Micah Levi (also Oscar-nominated) that keeps the movie from settling comfortably into being just another biopic. The Blu-ray includes an interesting making-of documentary and the included Digital HD copy comes with a fascinating commentary track from Pablo Larraín and Natalie Portman.

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