AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Dave Campbell | December 10, 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman, John McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey
Black Swan centers around Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman); a perfectionist who’s life revolves around her mastery of ballet. Nina’s sole focus is to win the lead spot of her New York City ballet company, headed by company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Nina still lives at home with her smothering mother Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey), who oppressively treats her as an adolescent rather than the adult twenty-something that she is. Erica was once an aspiring ballerina herself, but had to give it all up due to her pregnancy with Nina. She now tries to live vicariously through Nina in a controlling and dysfunctional way.
Leroy announces that his latest production will be a “reinvisoning” of the classic ballet, Swan Lake. Leroy is positioning a fresh face to emerge and be his new star, while forcing his once prized ballerina (and Nina’s idol) Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder), into retirement. Nina sees her chance to rise up, but soon finds competition and a unique friendship with Lily (Kunis), the new dancer in the company. Swan Lake requires a ballerina that can take on the double Swan Queen role of both White Swan and Black Swan.
Nina embodies everything that Leroy needs in his elegant and precise White Swan, but questions if she can let go and embrace the passion needed to be the commandingly seductive Black Swan; who fits the natural personality of Lily. Nina, must face inner demons and her delicate mental state to prove that she also has the Black Swan in her. Along the way Nina’s path starts becoming more and more bizarre, provocative and intense as the pressure builds to opening night.
Natalie Portman completely seizes the character of Nina, by giving the performance of her career. She exudes excellence in every scene by carefully managing the vast range of emotions in the unstable mental state of the role while executing the physical demands with grace. The only person standing in her way for best actress in the upcoming awards season, is Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine. Both are extremely deserving of the recognition so it will be exciting to see how it all plays out.
Portman’s support couldn’t have been any better either. Vincent Cassel is a man full of presence as Thomas Leroy…no matter how slimy. Barbara Hershey does an excellent job of dialing up a crazy overprotective mother, and Winona Ryder even manages to impress in her limited number of scenes. And to top it all off, Mila Kunis nails the free spirited sexy bad-girl, being the yang to Portman’s ying.
The accompanying score strikes a sweet balance between the subtle piano key strokes to the biggest erupting symphony orchestrations. Color, reflection and texture play big parts in setting the environment of Black Swan. The use of white, black, gray and red provide strong definition to the character tones. In our time of HD digital overload, it’s nice to see that Aronofsky isn’t afraid of film grain; because of this, Black Swan retains the visual warmth of a classic film.
Director Darren Aronofsky has made his best film to date with Black Swan. He strayed from the surreal (his sweet spot) in his 2008 film The Wrestler, and that experience only strengthened his dramatic character direction. Black Swan is a staggering portrait that will linger on your mind for days. It’s shockingly dark and brilliantly beautiful, with a double edge of obsessive self-destruction and alluring sexuality. In short, Black Swan is: Crazy. Sexy. Cool.