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NEW YORK (CNS) -- "Jackie" (Fox Searchlight) is more of a passionate meditation on the nature of a first lady's fame than a historical drama about Jacqueline Kennedy in the weeks following the 1963 assassination of her husband.

So the mesmerizing performance by Natalie Portman in the title role -- it's one long monologue, really -- can't be measured against other biopics of presidents or their wives.

Director Pablo Larrain and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim focus instead on how Jackie created her own legend by virtually dictating a story about her husband's last days to reporter and biographer Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) for Life magazine. They strengthen their drama with an expertly created mix of archival footage into which Portman is inserted.

Jackie, shown to be arch and brittle, has complete control over the article, and even commands White not to mention that she smokes. It being the early 1960s, everyone else is smoking, of course.

This feature in Life launched the Camelot legend of the Kennedy years, since Jackie mentioned that she and the president (Caspar Phillipson) used to enjoy listening to the eponymous Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical's cast album. She knew, in other words, something about myth-making -- even in the depths of her grief.

That's also where the film goes off the rails after its first hour.

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