BLACK SWAN Review
How do you get a bunch of dudes to take their girlfriends to see a movie about ballet? When the ballerinas are Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, and there’s hot girl-on-girl action, that’s how.
Now that I have your attention, let’s get our destroyed, broken, bloody, calloused, Capezio’d feet wet in the story of Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN.
Nina (Portman) is just another struggling New York City ballerina when she is plucked from obscurity by the company’s lecherous director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) and given the starring role in a new production of Swan Lake, to the chagrin of aging star Beth (Winona Ryder), whom she supplants. Thomas pushes Nina to shine when dancing the part of the white swan, and to discover within herself the dark freedom of expression and sensual fierceness to embody the not-so-sweet black swan. Newcomer Lily (Kunis) seems to perfectly frame this easy bad-girlishness. She is always waiting in the wings to comment, congratulate, or even take over when Nina fails to show for rehearsal after a night of uncharacteristic debauchery with Lily, against the wishes of Nina’s creepy, controlling ex-dancer mother (Barbara Hershey).
Aronofsky’s control of the visuals in this movie is absolute: seamlessly and fantastically blending realistic (and often bloody) makeup with computer-generated wings, faces, and other assorted body-image issues. Even without the blood (and it’s there) and horror-show monsters (they’re there too), this would be a gorgeously photographed drama. But the visual and audible depiction of the psychological stress Nina is under adds so much bite to the film that it plays like the highest production-value horror movie you’ve ever seen. My packed theater audience gasped, hid their faces and even screamed.
The ballet scenes are beautiful and powerful. Both Kunis, and especially Portman, are to be commended for the obvious amount of work they put in to achieve a semblance of reality in this regard. But “127 Hours” has nothing on these girls in terms of tension and gore. Portman is nearly flawless in her dual role, Kunis and Cassel are more than up to the task (even if their characters are a bit spot-on), and Hershey evokes a ghostly Joan Crawford waiting to scoop up the pieces of the daughter she’s helping to break.
In a late-2010 surge of terrific movies destined for Oscar recognition (The Fighter, The King’s Speech, True Grit), Black Swan stands out, and edges The Social Network for my vote for the Best Picture of 2010.