Fox Searchlight Pictures
Now Showing at: AMC Newport and Esquire Theatres.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Many stories in literature and film explore the duality of nature and the human persona. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comes immediately to mind. The new film Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky, puts a dazzling new spin on such an exploration. Natalie Portman plays a shy but talented ballerina who longs to play both roles in Swan Lake, the white swan, and the Black Swan. The symbolism is apparent from the get-go. The director of the production longs to seduce her, but she resists, as it’s not up to her image. And she still lives with her mother, who gave up a ballet career in order to raise her child. And never lets her forget it.
Add in Portman’s obsession with perfection, not only in her on-stage performance, but also in body size and type, and you have a powerful recipe for unrelieved pressure.
Black Swan is a blend of cinematic types as well. Part thriller, part dance drama, part horror story, all elements are carried squarely on Natalie Portman’s shoulders. And unless there are some sinister forces at work, it should be a no-brainer for her to dance away with the Oscar for her efforts. Apparently she trained for a year in ballet in preparation for this role, and does most, if not all the dance scenes herself. The work paid off as she delivers one of the most amazing, powerful, and yes, painful, performances seen on screen in years.
The rest of the cast is up to the task as well. The great French actor Vincent Cassell is the director who fancies himself her Svengali. Her nemesis, just arrived from another dance company, is Mila Kunis, who just earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress in this role. She is the complete flip side to Portman’s persona. Winona Ryder has a couple of brief scenes as the previous dance diva that’s been dumped from the company in favor of Portman. And the mother is played by Barbara Hershey, who seems to take equal pleasure in encouraging her daughter’s dependence upon her, while tormenting her at the same time.
The stunning cinematography by Matthew Libatique also infuses Black Swan with another set of styles… high, wide shots, intimate close ups, shots that make you wonder if you just saw what you actually saw. Libatique has worked with Aronofsky on other films, as well as shooting both the Iron Man films. He can make you believe you’re watching a grand epic in one scene, and in the next pull you into the frame as if you’re watching a horror film by the Italian master Dario Argento.
Black Swan is one of those films that, no matter what your initial reaction is, gets better the more you think and talk about it. And a lot of it depends on how you feel about ballet in general. This is not another The Red Shoes or The Turning Point, or an MGM musical from the 1950s. This is hard-edged, fear-tinged, sometimes gasping for breath filmmaking. And at the core is Natalie Portman, thoroughly resplendent in her character in the performance of a lifetime.
The R-rated Black Swan is now showing at the AMC Newport on the Levee and the Esquire Theatre.