BLACK SWAN (2010)
Directed By: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman
Rating: * * * * * (Five out of five stars)
Every few years, a film comes along that literally touches on every aspect of what's appealing in cinema. These films all seem to have great direction, a solid screenplay, career defining performances, beautiful cinematography, and a fitting soundtrack or score to help all these things blend perfectly together. It is not often that we are given all of these treats at once. So when they arrive, we must cherish them for all that they embody.
Black Swan is the story of a New York City ballet company's production of Swan Lake. Young dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) is casted as the swan queen, where she will play both the white and black swans. While Nina excels at the structured dance of the white swan, she lacks the improvisational passion of the black swan. Soon fellow dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), who embodies the spirit of the black swan, is casted as her understudy. It seems that the competition from Lily, combined with the stress from an overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) and romantic and artistic tensions from the ballet company's director (Vincent Cassel), begin to challenge Nina's perceptions of reality.
Black Swan is one of those rare mentioned films that does excel on every level. Director Darren Aronofsky's attention to detail ensures that the film never hits a false note. The way in which he chose to interweave Nina's story, which roughly follows the tale of Swan Lake, with her performance in that very ballet is one of the best story within a story parallels that I have ever seen. Many films that attempt to do this can come off confusing to most, but this never reaches that point. There will be a few things you'll be discussing at the end, as far as what was real and what was imagined. Although, no definite answer to these questions gives it that degree of interpretation that so much of us love. Aronofsky is one of the better filmmakers working today, and in the case of Black Swan he gives his audience not just another great film, but his greatest film to date.
Keeping with the theme of "greatest to date", Natalie Portman gives the performance that will go on to define her career. Her dedication to the role of Nina shows a maturity and discipline that seemed to always be there. The transformation that Nina takes through the film is handled perfectly in Portman's hands. Throughout the film we see glimpses of what her character might mature into, but still when it happens you are left in awe. Portman has always had the talent to execute such a performance, it appears that she just needed a vehicle like Black Swan to do so. The Oscar buzz surrounding her performance is worthy of the hype, but I do feel like Academy voters might find it to be too edgy to award. Although it does have my vote, if they do indeed call this year for my thoughts, for best performance by an actress.
It's not just a two person show though, as there are many things to take from this film. It is quite a task to score a film that is a psychological thriller about ballet, but the score composed Clint Mansell fits perfectly. It's way of touching you at moments, and jarring you out of your seat at others was a refreshing surprise. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique's look of the film is constant throughout. It is in great part to him that the final ballet scenes of the film appear to be so stunning.
It's safe to say that I enjoyed Black Swan. It's a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, as it needs a large canvas to execute correctly. When looking at my "Best of 2010" list, Black Swan fills quite a few categories. With just a few films left on my list to see this year, I don't see many of those things changing. Black Swan is in theaters now in select cities and opens wide on Friday December 17th.