Having ultra-famous actors star as real-life figures is always a risk. The actor can often too famous for us to truly believe them as the person they are representing. We don’t see Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes or J. Edgar Hoover, we just see Leo.
The same applies for a good portion of Jackie, starring Oscar winner Natalie Portman as the infamous first lady. Even though Portman nails down Jackie’s mannerisms and movements to an exact T, we only see Portman. That changes though in the scene where Portman’s Jackie returns to the White House following the assassination of her husband., the first time Jackie has truly been alone since the harrowing event. As we watch Portman aimlessly move through the storied White House halls, crying as she removes her blood-splattered pink outfit into her black nightgown, Portman truly becomes Jackie, and we see her as nothing else but Jackie for the rest of the film.
It’s an outstanding performance, one that magnificently captures the triumphs, flaws and contradicting complexities of a storied American figure. Like the rest of America, Portman probably has a strong affinity and fascination with her character, but she never tries to over-idealize Jackie or put her on a pedestal. Portman conveys the true fabric of Jackie’s being, tapping into her dreams and nightmares, seamlessly blending herself into the quarters of Camelot.
The film stumbles though on a slightly-experimental, non-conventional storytelling structure, bouncing back and forth between scenes of Jackie planning JFK’s funeral, talking with a priest for spiritual guidance and speaking with the reporter who’s been tasked with interviewing the former First Lady. It certainly is an admirable method of storytelling but Jackie would ring much truer if it was conveyed in a more linear format without as many bells or tricks. Still, Portman’s performance is worthy enough to cover the faults of direction, and is truly one of the great real-life inspired performances of this century so far.