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Natalie Portman makes amazing transformation for role in ‘Jackie’

Movie trailer: 'Jackie'

Natalie Portmas stars in "Jackie," which opens December 21, 2016 in Fresno movie theaters.
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Natalie Portmas stars in "Jackie," which opens December 21, 2016 in Fresno movie theaters.

“Jackie” is a career-defining role for Natalie Portman. The actress has bounced between serious work (“Black Swan”) and more box-office-driven productions (“Thor”). Nothing compares to her performance as former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, which shows Portman has the skills to transform herself into a role so deeply that most evidence of the actress gets lost inside the skin of the part she’s playing.

Taking on Jackie Kennedy was a massive gamble as the first lady’s image is almost as indelible as her husband’s. Despite being in the White House for only two-plus years, she set a high standard with her passion for fashion and her support of JFK.

Portman doesn’t just slip into the recognizable fashions, she crawls deep into the character – from a remarkable matching of Jackie’s unique voice to the controlled pain she shows in those final days.

Taking on parts based on real people is always an iffy prospect. Too often, the performance goes too far and the end result is a caricature. Playing the role too safely can make it difficult to recognize the role.

Portman finds the right balance. The world saw the public first lady who stayed strong amid tragedy. . The actress plays the public side of Jackie while also showing the private side as wife and mother dealing with soul-crushing grief.

She gets across the pain and determination in subtle ways: a look in her eyes, the nervous way she smokes, an overzealous need to know the details of the assassination. Portman seamlessly shifts from Jackie as a woman who knows the world is watching her every move to a widow trying to deal with the loss of her husband.

This is such a transformative performance that Portman has to be a lock for an Oscar nomination. Few actresses reach the level of commitment, passion and performance that Portman shows. She’s so good, she overshadows an equally impressive performance by Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy.

Part of that may come from 35-year-old Portman being only one year older than Jackie Kennedy at the time of the assassination. She can understand what it’s like to be such a public figure at such a young age.

The deep commitment by Portman resonates even stronger as director Pablo Larrain mixes in actual footage from the funeral and a one-hour TV special hosted by Jackie that offered a look inside the White House.

Events in the week between the assassination in Dallas and the burial of Kennedy are played out through an interview the first lady conducts with a reporter known only in the film as The Journalist (Billy Crudup). She did give an interview to Theodore White of Life magazine a week after the assassination. It was that interview where the of Kennedy’s time in office is compared to Camelot.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been the subject of numerous films and TV projects. Larrain’s staging is as brutal and violent as has ever been shown but never to the point of being gratuitous. The stark images drive home the horror that Jackie – and the country – faced.

Part of that is the casting of Caspar Phillipson as JFK. He looks so much like him that the vision of him being rushed to the hospital with his head in Jackie’s lap looks like it could have been newsreel footage.

The entire movie resonates with an authenticity that stems from Portman’s performance. From the wardrobe to the re-creation of historical moments, there are no shortcuts taken. The work makes “Jackie” the once and future king of biopics.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

Jackie

Movie review

Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup

Director: Pablo Larrain

95 minutes

Rating: R (violence, language)

Opens: Was expected to open Wednesday but Fox Searchlight decided Monday to push it back to late January.

Check movie times at calendar.fresnobee.com/movies.aspx

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