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Taking us very inside one of the most shattering moments in American history, Pablo Larrain taps into a challenging and intriguing perspective on the traditional White House bio-pic.

Yes, this tight and trim drama takes place mostly in the days surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy, but the focus here is on one of its most key, but previously little filmed players, the First Lady. There’s that iconic photo of her, reaching over the back of the limo in that blood soaked pink suit, but how many of us know much more about how she managed in the horrible spotlight of history? Using the interview she granted Theodore H. White for Life magazine as a spine, Noah Oppenheim’s remarkable screenplay takes us not only into a terrifying reenactment of the day in Dallas, but into the frightened, determined and savvy mind of the newly widowed, very young woman.

Clear eyed writing, directing and, mostly, performances give us a fascinating you-are-there feel to this handsomely made film. I almost didn’t recognize Greta Gerwig, who is lovely and grounded as friend and aide Nancy Tuckerman. And John Hurt is terrific as the Irish Catholic priest offering counsel. It took me a few scenes to buy Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, but once I did, his work moved me. The score, sets, costumes and makeup are chillingly perfect.

As is the remarkable Natalie Portman, who gives her best, most nuanced performance to date. Her Jackie floats on the soft tones we heard in the First Lady’s few taped appearances, but also digs into the dirt of preserving her husband’s legacy, as complicated as that may be. As irresistible as this peek inside this notoriously private woman’s story may be, it’s the complexity of what we find that makes this picture all the more distinctive and tantalizing.

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