Directed by: Darren Aronofksy
Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins
Release Date: December 3, 2010 (limited)
PLOT: A hard-working ballerina (Portman) suffers from mental and physical problems when she tries to play both white swan and black swan in a presentation of Tchaikovksy’s “Swan Lake.”
WHO’S IT FOR? For those who think that this is truly the most wonderful time of the year, Black Swan should definitely be at the top of your award season viewing list.
EXPECTATIONS: After hearing some buzzing from this year’s fall festival circuit, I decided to ultimately avoid any trailers for this film. A few festival write-ups that I had read mentioned certain elements of this peculiar sounding movie. How would the director of The Wrestler present the world of ballet, and just how could Natalie Portman be in such a role?
Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers: Decades later when we talk about Natalie Portman, Black Swan will be the film in which her talent is still associated with. Portman shows incredible technique in this performance, as both a stunning actress and an astonishing ballerina. Portman does a phenomenal job Working with all shades of darkness in this film. It’s like she doesn’t have a weakness. Looking skinnier than usual, Portman’s cheekbones are on display, making her look more mature than we’ve seen before. They remind us that we are looking at someone that looks like a classic actress, and will soon be one herself.
Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy: Applying the same amount of pressure that she forces onto herself is the intimidating Thomas, played with professional intensity by Cassel. His appearance in the movie can be menacing in some parts, and supportive in others. He offers the tough love to Nina that becomes difficult for her to gage.
Mila Kunis as Lily: Her performance isn’t extraordinary, but it is not meant to be. Kunis is a solid fit to play the rebel with more charisma than talent. She can live-up to the idea of playing the exaggerated “bad girl” that the movie’s mind wants her to be. Lily is less of an isolated character but a piece of art direction used by the film to enhance the presentation Nina’s mental situation. Picking Kunis to play the “standout” who is mediocre in talent compared to everyone else around her is good casting.
Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers: Like mother, like daughter. This uber-controlling stage-mom has her own shades of freakiness, which Hershey presents in a non-abusive Mommie Dearest like way. The scariest aspect of this character is that she’s just trying to be a good parent, and is unaware of what damage she has done to her daughter in ways of trying to help her. Just as her daughter is losing her mind to ballet, so is this woman, an ex-ballerina, to the notion of extreme parenting.
Winona Ryder as Beth Macintyre: Certainly not the best drunk to grace the silver screen this year, Ryder only has a few scenes in Black Swan, with her character leaving more of a mark on the audience than the performance itself. Also credited as “The Dying Swan” on IMDb, Beth is a disturbing example of what happens when Thomas’ “little princesses” reach a certain age, especially according to the mind of Nina.
TALKING: Dialogue is used sparingly, as visuals provide more evidence of whatever is going on within the story of Black Swan. The consistent usage of “sweet girl” by Nina’s mother and “little princess” by Thomas add a creeping pressure to the overall story.
SIGHTS: Black Swan beautifully captures the intense physicality of ballet. In swooping long takes, even during scenes in rooms full of mirrors, the camera follows dancers like Nina with equal grace, and essentially lets us dance with her. The film’s complete depiction of ballet comes with shots of Nina’s spinning on her toes in slow motion, shots of her rigorously preparing her dancing flats, and imagery of her various stretches and body conditioning. As for a moment that involves two of stars going at it vigorously, Aronofsky continues to show that he thoroughly enjoys his sex scenes.
SOUNDS: Darren Aronofsky’s right-hand composer Clint Mansell returns with a collection of classically orchestrated pieces that meld well with Tchaikovsky’s original ideas from “Swan Lake.” As for his score’s effect on the film, music tends to lend itself more towards jump scares than the film’s actual sound design. Shrieking strings jump out with a slight cheapness in a couple of instances, ones that could certainly do without the PG-13 horror-movie-level jump scare. Overall, Mansell’s score is fantastic.
BEST SCENE: Though it’s brief, the moment where Nina calls her mother on the phone is the most powerful moment in the entire movie. Portman handles the huge emotional task with one shot. There’s just something about this scene that gets to me more than anything else.
ENDING: Ending your film with the line “I was perfect,” as followed by applause that rings into the credits, is usually a pretentious wink at the audience. With Black Swan, it is well-deserved.
QUESTIONS: Other than for dramatic effect, is there a reason why no one notices Nina’s blood-spot until Thomas sees it?
REWATCHABILITY: Black Swan is still an intriguing watch after a second viewing, however continually perplexing it may be.
Black Swan is one beautiful, strange bird. Brought to life by a truly excellent performance from Natalie Portman and a stunning realization by director Darren Aronofsky, the film is a compelling trip into guilt and paranoia that comes with its own kind of darkness. However obvious the connection between the story and it’s source material may be (the plot is never meant to be surprising itself), the film grabs the audience’s attention with its freakishness, which is put to the audience without much guidance. Strange things happen to Nina the closer she gets to her opening night performance, and the head-scratching continues to pile on. The film ends with a tremendous finale, one that indicates classical talent in all of the film’s aesthetic areas. Aronofsky and Portman are at the top of their ability. Bravo!
FINAL SCORE: 8/10