Published Sep 22, 2010Phase two of Darren Aronofsky's artistic metamorphosis continues with Black Swan. His fascination with the physical and psychological toll upon professional athletic performers expands from The Wrestler to ballet.
Building upon that straight character drama, Aronofsky has layered an insidious thriller within this story of a ballerina vying for the lead in a production of Swan Lake. Channelling the first-person psychosis of debut Pi and much of Roman Polanski's subtle horror, Black Swan is a brilliantly realized genre amalgamation.
How can a movie about ballet be tense and exhilarating, escalating to full-on skin-crawling fear? Aronofsky shoots dance with more visceral passion than Ridley Scott does action these days. The camera is mostly handheld and is so close to the action you can almost feel the wind off the dancers' spinning limbs. Kind of like a Bourne film in toe shoes, the snappy editing and frantic kinetic energy of the actors leaves you breathless.
As beautiful and intensely shot as it is, Black Swan ultimately rests on Natalie Portman's performance as Nina. A veteran dancer desperately punishing herself to succeed, she can secure the lead in instructor Thomas Leyroy's new production of Swan Lake, if only she can lose herself enough to dance the Black Swan with as much passion and sensuality as she does the White Swan with grace and precision. To prod her insecurities, a young, spunky, new dancer, Lilly (a very well cast Mila Kunis), arrives on the scene, a constant example to Nina of how to let go.
Nina's mother is domineering and overprotective, but partly for good reason; Nina's shoulders keep getting covered in odd scratches. Her behaviour grows steadily more erratic as the pressure mounts and her paranoia about Lilly's intentions magnifies.
Portman gives the best performance I've seen from any actor so far this year; a nomination and Oscar are fully deserved. Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder contribute strong supporting roles, but it's Aronofsky's direction that's the true co-lead.
Emotionally unsettling and visually mystifying, with surprising moments of humour and terror, Black Swan is another evolution in the career of one of the most consistently intriguing and stirring artistic forces in cinema. (Fox Searchlight)