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Movie review: Natalie Portman is terrific in ‘Jackie’

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.

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.

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.

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.

‘Jackie’

Cast: Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard.

Director: Pablo Larrain.

Running time: 99 minutes.

Rating: R (brief strong violence, strong language).

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