The countless men who feel that being dragged to a ballet with their female companions is boring are in for a rude awakening when they see Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, an aggressively paced, twisted film that leaves your head spinning faster than a well-executed pirouette.
In the film, Natalie Portman plays Nina, a young and delicate ballerina tapped to dance the dual leads in Swan Lake. She has the innocence to play the White Swan but is encouraged to explore her dark side by her demanding director (Vincent Cassel). With an overzealous stage parent of a mother (Barbara Hershey) and a pretty and talented newcomer challenging her for the role (Mila Kunis), doing so is hardly difficult for Nina, who it is established early is far from mentally stable to begin with. As the ballet’s opening approaches, though, Nina’s mind is overtaken by the darkness and, like the character she represents, she is overtaken by the Black Swan.
Portman, who has been the toast of awards season, is phenomenal in her best role outside of V for Vendetta. It’s no coincidence that someone so small and pretty would be selected for the White Swan, but it’s her descent into madness that demands attention. Hershey also shines in her own manic role, though the character is in need of back story. Kunis, all sex and danger, provides a great contrast to Portman.
Aronofsky’s direction, meanwhile, is both brilliant and maddening. His shaky-cam style refuses to let viewers settle into the movie, almost provoking them before the film’s more nightmarish scenes start to take over. His production team throws in some brilliant special effects work that enhances the terror. You scoff at Cassel’s character when he says he wants to reimagine and modernize Swan Lake, but when you realize that Aronofsky has done exactly that, you find yourself grateful for the effort.
**** of 5