Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A movie review: Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan (2010)
Director - Darren Aronofsky
108 Min; R
Natalie Portman - Nina Sayers
Mila Kunis - Lily
Vincent Cassel - Thomas Leroy
Barbara Hershey - Erica Sayers
Winona Ryder - Beth

At a certain point about halfway through the film Black Swan I started to question my full understanding and expectations of what I was watching, then, thankfully, I re-directed my focus on the beautiful and violent second half in time to come away with a deep appreciation for this Darren Aronofsky film. 108 minutes about ballet may not sound, on the surface, as the type of film you'd choose to spend your money on, but come on, this is Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis locked in a psychological battle that encompasses both the mental and the physical (plus it's got some sweet lesbian action, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.)

The film starts us off in a dream sequence and it never relents nor apologizes for the juxtaposition between the real world and fantasy. If you are looking for a film that connects the dots and at the end you can comfortably say you understood it all, this is not for you. My initial inclination is to compare the feeling I had throughout to that of Mulholland Dr. (2001), a David Lynch film that leaves you with a vague understanding of everything that is happening and just when you sort of think you understand it fully, you realize there is more to discover.

Nina (Portman) is a sheltered young dancer who has spent several years perfecting her craft - she wants to be perfect in her technique - yet she has neglected every other aspect of her life. She lives with her domineering and slightly creepy mother, played with incredible zeal by Barbara Hershey, who was once herself a dancer who never quite made it and now spends all of her time managing Nina and working on her painting in their small Manhattan apartment. When the theater director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) announces that there will be a change in the lead dancer (The famous Beth played by Winona Ryder) and that the new season will feature a production of Swan Lake, Nina plunges her soul into obtaining the part that requires the lead to portray both the good white and bad black swan. A transplant dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) arrives around this time and is immediately perceived as a threat by Nina, something that is seemingly confirmed as Thomas and Lily appear to be getting along on a carnal level that Nina cannot understand, given her limited life and, more to the point, sexual experience.

Where the film goes from here is for you to discover, as it takes a psychological path through the mind of Nina that leaves us with a beautiful final scene that cements Portman's inevitable Oscar nomination. For my money I would also like to see Kunis nominated for Best Supporting Actress, as her role is pivotal to our understanding of Nina's journey. In the same breath I would like to note that Barbara Hershey could very well end up with a nod as well, though in a lesser role she is no less important to our overall emotional involvement in the film.

Followers of Aronofsky will undoubtedly find similarities to some of his other films, but I don't think that detracts from the overall effect. Shaky, hand-held camera angles work very well in many scenes and the tedious scenes of an artist preparing for his or her craft are well done and in no way gratuitous. A voracious score that begs you to see this in a large theater is always present and a willingness by the director to allow the cast to discover their character's inner beings is what makes this a truly special film, and though I found myself wavering on a final verdict I have decided to go with my instinct and say this is one of the best films of the year, though I'm more than willing to admit that some may find it a bit too much of an art house feel to be considered among the best of the year.

***** out of 5

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