Black Swan Movie Review
Review by Nathan Samdahl (A)
Black Swan is nothing short of a brilliant film and easily one of the best of the year. Intense, unnerving and beautiful, Black Swan harks back to Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream in all of the best ways (although the film also shares many thematic similarities with The Wrestler). Like many of the best films, Black Swan was a labor of love. Aronofsky began thinking about the story over 15 years ago and five years later, around the time when he was making his debut feature Pi, the first version of the script was created. Over the years the story took on new forms eventually integrating Swan Lake and that story's inherent themes and elements to best show the extreme physical and psychological downward journey that Natalie Portman's character undertakes.
It is difficult to criticize the film as it is a fully realized vision delivered by one of the best directors working today. You will either love it or you won't, but it seems useless to harp on specific elements when I found myself smiling throughout the film. And keep it mind, I'm smiling despite watching fingernails being mangled, skin being pulled back and a slew of other painful and often scary moments.
Natalie Portman definitively delivers the best performance of her career. Vigorously training for ten months to reach a level that left many of the best ballet dancers in awe, Portman is stunning and convincing as the lead ballerina, Nina. Her character's dramatic transformation from innocent and conservative to corrupted and raw pushes her performance even beyond her excellent work in Closer.
Surrounding her is a phenomenal supporting cast, particularly Vincent Cassel who is mesmerizing in every scene, as well as Mila Kunis, who also delivers her best performance to date. Winona Ryder is great as the aging and bitter ballerina forced aside after years on the top. Rounding out the cast is the wonderful Barbara Hershey, who plays Nina's mother. Hershey draws strong parallels to Ellen Burstein's character in Requiem. Both are dealing with the downward spirals of their children and are struggling to maintain any control they can in the situation. Physically, both women look beleaguered and worn, well past their prime and in this state, almost scary.
Aronofsky utilizes many of the aesthetic techniques seen in Requiem and The Wrestler such as the use of long unflinching POV takes, often hand-held, which keep the audience on edge and allow for very little reprieve in the form of master shots or open spaces. As Portman is drawn further into the darkness, the camera work intensifies and restricts as well. The beautiful visuals created by cinematographer Matthew Libatique (The Fountain, Iron Man, Pi) include some of the best and most raw ballet footage ever seen, capturing the grace, pain, emotion and energy of the dance. Aronofsky also seems to take a cue from director David Lynch in how he builds his the unnerving soundtrack for the film. To create some of the film's scarier, more disturbing sequences, many low hums and subtle music cues are used, very similar to like scenes from Mulholland Drive or Lynch's Lost Highway.
If you were planning to see only one film this year, Black Swan is the one. While I hope that Black Swan is rewarded as one of the Best Picture nominees, which seems likely given its current competition, I would also not be surprised to see this film minimized as The Wrestler was a couple years ago (The Wrestler was kept out of the Best Picture and Director races most notably by Frost/Nixon and Ron Howard). But regardless of where it lands award-wise, this is one of the most beautifully crafted films in recent years and should not be missed. Just be sure to leave the kids at home.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.