Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Portman and Aronofsky Give "Black Swan" Its Wings

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 42 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Black Swan (2010)
Running time: 108 minutes (1 hour, 48 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use
DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky
WRITERS: Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz, and John McLaughlin; from a story by Andrés Heinz
PRODUCERS: Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, and Brian Oliver
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Andrew Weisblum
COMPOSER: Clint Mansell
Academy Award winner


Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, and Benjamin Millepied

Black Swan in an Oscar-winning psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky. It is the story of a ballerina descending into delusion and paranoia as opening night nears and the pressure to be perfect builds. Black Swan isn’t entirely satisfying, except for the dark and gleaming magic director Darren Aronofsky and star Natalie Portman make.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina in a prestigious New York City ballet company. Her life is completely consumed with dance, and she lives with her obsessive mother, the former ballerina Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey), who exerts a suffocating control over her daughter. Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the artistic director of her ballet company, decides to make Swan Lake the opening production of their new ballet season. Thomas wants to replace prima ballerina, Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder), and needs to cast a new principal dancer. But this new lead must be able to portray both the innocent and fragile White Swan and her sensual evil twin, the Black Swan.

Nina is Thomas’ first choice to play the coveted role of the Swan Queen, but Nina has competition. A new dancer named Lily (Mila Kunis) impresses Thomas as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play the White Swan with innocence and grace and also capture the guile and sensuality of the Black Swan. Nina is a perfect fit for the White Swan, but bad girl Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. The two young dancers become friends, but as opening night approaches, that friendship twists into a treacherous rivalry. Nina struggles to access the dark side within her that will allow her to depict the Black Swan with perfection, but her new reckless behavior threatens to destroy her.

Black Swan is indeed a good movie; in fact, it is sometimes riveting, but not because of the writing. The script is shallow, and the screenwriters put the onus on the viewers to accept the great leaps of faith the writers make with the development of Nina Sayers. The depictions of her delusions and paranoia often seem contrived, but the writers handle Nina better than they do the other characters.

Vincent Cassel’s Thomas Leroy is such a stereotype that you can see Cassel fighting onscreen to make his character real or tangible rather than just be a type. Barbara Hershey is more successful in making Erica Sayers a character that electrifies the story every time she appears, but Erica is really a tired stage mother type. Mila Kunis is blood sugar sex magic as Lily, but I get the feeling that the screenwriters were afraid of where this character could take the story. Lily often seems like spicy seasoning overused in some places and woefully underutilized in others.

Black Swan’s success is in Natalie Portman and in the way Darren Aronofsky uses the camera to drink in every bit of Portman’s virtuoso performance. This duo makes Black Swan wonderfully creepy, almost always managing to stop whenever the entire thing seems on the verge of turning campy. Portman is passionate when being passionate is better than being intense. Black Swan looks good under Aronofsky’s bold direction. Watching this film, I believed that I could see him with a handheld camera just outside the picture frame gliding behind Portman.

Perhaps it is Aronofsky chasing Portman that makes this movie feel so wildly melodramatic. Everything that is so attractively lurid, sensational, and bracing about Black Swan is because of this director-star pairing made in heaven.

8 of 10

2011 Academy Awards: 1 win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Natalie Portman); 1 nominations: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver, and Scott Franklin), “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Matthew Libatique), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Darren Aronofsky), and “Best Achievement in Editing” (Andrew Weisblum)

2011 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Actress” (Natalie Portman); 11 nominations: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects,” “Best Cinematography” (Matthew Libatique), “Best Costume Design” (Amy Westcott), “Best Editing” (Andrew Weisblum), “Best Film,” “Best Make Up/Hair,” “Best Production Design” (Thérèse DePrez and Tora Peterson), “Best Screenplay-Original” (Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin), “Best Sound,” “Best Supporting Actress” (Barbara Hershey), and “David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction” (Darren Aronofsky)

2011 Golden Globes: 1 win “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Natalie Portman); 3 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Darren Aronofsky), “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Mila Kunis)

Sunday, May 22, 2011


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