Natalie Portman in Jackie (Photo: Fox Searchlight)

JACKIE
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Pablo Larraín
STARS Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard

That Natalie Portman delivers a tremendous performance as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie is to be expected. What’s less certain is if the movie surrounding her will be a tediously respectful biopic, a factually challenged piece of fiction, or a movie that moves to its own beat without ever taking its eye off the ball.

Happily, it’s the third option, with director Pablo Larraín and writer Noah Oppenheim employing a choppy structure that actually benefits the film. With an interview with a reporter (Billy Crudup) serving as anchor scenes, the rest largely recalls that awful period when the First Lady lost her husband — and the nation lost its leader — on that fateful November day in Dallas. The picture synchronizes with her dazed rhythm, and we catch glimpses of Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) sharing in the grief, Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) maneuvering in the background, and the pre-MPAA Jack Valenti (Max Casella) operating in typically weaselly fashion.

Jackie makes no pretense at being a comprehensive biography — instead, it’s more like a few carefully selected pages from a bestselling tome, enough to whet the appetite without completely satisfying it.

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