Black Swan is one of the most unique films I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s a well crafted, menacingly dark, vividly imaginative movie that coasts on a strong central performance from Natalie Portman and some voyeuristic direction from Darren Aronofsky.
The movie follows Nina (Portman), a young prodigy ballet dancer getting the biggest break of her career as the lead in a newly-imagined version of “Swan Lake”. It’s a pretty simple film, but one that handles the simplicity with such boldness that the film evolves into one of the most finely crafted films of the year.
Portman gives what could be one of her finest performances, if for once because she’s less inside her own head on screen. She moves freely, precisely, expertly, and her calm demeanor slowly erodes as she begins to morph into the Black Swan. Her subtle progression through her own life is organic and feels natural, as Nina trades in her nice, protected life for one a little more on the edge.
Aronofsky’s in your face, zestful direction again takes center stage, as he implants you into the surprisingly cutthroat world of ballet. It his uninhibited style that allows the movie to fill itself in. The movie is visual and cerebral, and succeeds because it admirably aspires to be more than it is. It’s melodramatic yet artfully tactful in its pursuit of its final goal. It’s the type of film that continues to fester itself in your mind for days, even weeks, after you experience it, as you try to figure out the answer to the one major question the film presents…
What the HELL was that?
And alot of folks will have their own answer to that question. Though I think the film is pretty simple to understand on a basic level, there is a lot of subtext that the audience is left to fill in for themselves, though again I think the answer to that is pretty simple too. The movie is a visual mind fuck, and there are some supernatural themes at play at moments.
The performances are all good, with the standout obviously being Portman in the lead role. I’ve always been really on the fence about Portman, mainly because she has never floored me with any given performance. She does that here. Her command of the role is paramount to its overall success, as she is unflinching in her delicacy throughout the bulk of the film. This is a major accomplishment, because it makes the final moments feel much bolder, really highlighting the transformation Nina has undergone in the entire movie up to that point.
Supporting performances by Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis are also good, particularly Cassel’s turn as the production’s director. He walks a pretty high tight rope, because he could have really cartooned up this performance if he had wanted to be more of the focus. The possibility is there for him to steal the scenes he’s in, and to a degree he does, but he never allows his character to overshadow the featured actresses. I credit Cassel and Aronofsky for not letting that happen here.
Black Swan is a tough movie to recommend because it can be a tough one to digest if you haven’t got the stomach, but it’s a tough one to process if you haven’t got the intelligence either. There is a lot of tension throughout the film, including tons bubbling under the surface that you can’t explicitly see. The movie will divide audiences, but it is a well-made film that boasts a terrific central performance from Natalie Portman and really elevates director Darren Aronofsky into the elite level of current American Film Directors.
Score: 8/10 (Very Good)