Movie Review - Black Swan (*****)


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Black Swan.  107 mins.  R.  Directed by Darren Aronofsky.  Written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin.  Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hersey, and Winona Ryder.
I fully expect that there are people who are going to hate this movie.  I can hear the complaints now - too sexual, too violent, thematically obvious, is any of it real?  I get that.  But there are also going to be people, myself included, who totally flip for it.  Black Swan is a heady cinematic trip - a surreal, batshit insane look at one performer's quest for perfection.  It is a disorienting, nightmarish moviegoing experience that thrives on the art of deception, the music of Swan Lake, and a lead actress working at the top of her game.  Love it or hate it, one thing's for sure though: director Darren Aronofsky set out to make a particular movie, and there is no doubt that he made the exact movie he had in mind. 
Much of the pre-release buzz surrounding the movie concerns Natalie Portman and her all-but-guaranteed lock for a Best Actress nomination . . . and win.  It's hers to lose at this point.  Who's going to beat her?  Annette Bening, from The Kids Are All Right?  The two performances aren't even in the same ballpark.  Black Swan requires a lot out of Portman as an actress, and she delivers on all counts.  Her character is Nina Sayers, a repressed, perfectionist ballerina, dealing with an overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), a demanding ballet director (Vincent Cassel), a rival understudy (Mila Kunis), and the physical toll of her profession. When she's given the role of The Swan Queen in a new production of Swan Lake, Nina is taken past the mental breaking point, with an increasingly slippery grasp on reality.
Don't try to focus too hard on the plot mechanics - just let the movie take over you.  It's not that hard.  Aronofsky is a gifted filmmaker, and this is his masterpiece.  He's dabbled in excellence before and he draws on those past experiences to inform his work here.  There's the virtuoso editing and edge of Requiem for a Dream, the dream-like obsessiveness of Pi, the obtuseness of The Fountain, and the handheld, intimate camerawork of The Wrestler.  But Black Swan is something entirely different in the end - a psycho-sexual horror thriller.  It's also his best film, and I'll be P.O.'d if he doesn't get a Best Director nod come February.
The movie builds and builds in its suspense, culminating in a final half-hour (the opening night performance of Swan Lake) that crests, then goes over the top, back down, and then up and over again.  You may want to look away at times - there are some truly disturbingly violent scenes - but you won't be able to.  Aronofsky grips you and wields the camera like the constantly roving, swirling dancers it depicts.  As the soundtrack blares - who knew Swan Lake's music could be so beautiful and so creepy - the viewer is overwhelmed, confusingly, delightfully so.
If ever a movie has captured the visual/sonic essence of a dream, or in this case, a waking nightmare, it's Black Swan.  An incredible movie - easily one of the year's best.  See it now.

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  • Totally agree. This was a roller coaster ride. Two of my favorite movies this year (this and Inception), I walked out totally blown away and not really sure what I just saw. I loved the subtle things that would happen to her skin and you'd go "huh?, did I just see that?" because it was gone so quick. I was almost afraid to say anything to my daughter, because I thought I was seeing things. I can't wait to see it with Ryan.

  • The thing I kind of love about this movie is that it's an A-list B movie. It's like a '70s Italian horror film, done with Oscar-worthy brilliance.

    And I think the thing that shocked me the most when I saw the film was how much it looked like "The Wrestler." It wasn't glossy at all (which you can kind of tell by looking at the un-airbrushed Natalie Portman on the poster), but the moments on stage were breathtaking.

  • Happy to hear you liked it! I'll be interested to hear what Ryan thinks - this one seems right up his alley.

  • This review is right on, Hammerle - easily one of the best films of the year. I thought I was being followed by Mila Kunis all night after watching this.

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