Just as he did with 2008’s The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky—together with his carefully chosen creative team—has constructed a fascinating world in which plays out a captivating psychological drama. Whereas his previous film unfolded in the testosterone-fuelled environment of professional wrestling, Black Swan’s setting is the polar opposite realm of the ballerina. But that’s not to say the character study contained within is any less powerful; indeed, this tale of ambition, awakening and desire has just as much impact.
Portman’s performance as Nina is one of the greatest of her career; her journey from strait-laced, fragile company dancer to sensual prima ballerina is absolutely mesmerizing. Starting her journey as a brilliant but less-than-confident dancer, Nina soon comes to the attention of instructor Thomas Leroy (Gallo), who casts her as the lead in Swan Lake—on which Black Swan’s narrative is loosely based. When he brings in the free-spirited Lily (Kunis) as her understudy, however, Nina grows wary of Lily’s motives. As her relationships with both Thomas and Lily become more complicated, Nina finds herself on an incredible journey of self-discovery, one that will push her to both her physical and psychological limits.
Just as The Wrestler was anchored by Mickey Rourke’s seminal performance, so Portman is the beating heart of Black Swan. But while she may be the star, the acting is outstanding across the board. Kunis is a delight as Lily; bubbly and upbeat, she is the direct opposite to Nina. Gallo is both seductive and dangerous as Thomas, a man so driven by his passion that all other emotions are cast aside, and while Ryder’s role as former lead dancer Beth is small, her raw portrayal of the snubbed star is the best thing she’s done in years. Hershey, too, is magnificent as Nina’s overbearing mother.
Aronofsky’s talent is filmmaking without compromise, and it’s a skill that is on display in every scene of Black Swan. It is a thing of absolute beauty; not only is it visually arresting, it’s also perfectly crafted from every conceivable angle. From the performances to the production, costume and sound design, every element works in harmony—even when the film reveals its darker side. The moments that delve into Nina’s psyche are, at times, shockingly brutal, becoming increasingly fragmented. Some sequences are explicit, some are lurid and some are truly horrifying, but none are exploitative or indulgent; they are all expertly realized markers of a descent into madness. And by the time Nina dances her climactic scene, the atmosphere of exultation and dread reaches such a crescendo as to leave you breathless.
UK Release Date: January 21, 2011