Friday, 21 January 2011
Natalie Portman is going to win the Oscar for Best Actress this year. In "Black Swan", she delivers a performance of unwavering commitment, covering such varied bases as childlike innocence, murderous rage, pitiful insecurity, timid repression, psychological despair, existential confusion and sexual emancipation in a way that seems natural and genuine throughout. It's easily her best performance, and sees her finally pay off on the promise shown in "Leon". Plus, she totally lezzes off with Mila Kunis.
This is the story of a girl named Nina, who is part of some poncey ballet troupe and lives in a tiny apartment with her former-ballerina mother. At first, the film plays like a study of the obsessive drive needed to achieve in the ballet world. We see the daily struggles and routines of borderline self-abuse the dancers go through, the bizarre rituals they engage in, and we witness Nina's uncomfortable relationship with her passive/aggressive oddball mother.
Shit soon starts to get weird though, as the pressure to succeed where her mother failed begins to take its toll and, when Nina lands the lead in "Swan Lake", threatens to send her completely batshit crazy. Do you think she keeps it together?
Darren Aronofsky last made "The Wrestler", and this is another back-stage peek at a world of performance and mystique. Shot in the same grainy-cam hand-held style, the film could almost have been "The Wrestler" with chicks in tights substituting for dudes in tights. This is not what Aronofsky goes for. He decides instead to use the obsession with performance at the cost of all else as not a chance for a simple, honest character study, but as a springboard into psychological exploito-body-horror mental-vision.
As Nina's grip on reality slips, so does the film's. Aronofsky ushers us into a cinematic hall of mirrors, bombarding us with twisted reflections and grotesque imagery at an ever increasing tempo. This is where the film will lose a lot of people. The shift from creeping dread to abject hysteria is pitch perfect, but may still make many an audience member cry "Stop that! It's far too silly!".
Personally I relished the balls-out lunacy of every bizarre development, and can even forgive the over-use of slasher movie orchestra stabs to make sure you jump at the scary parts, simply because there were enough genuinely unsettling surprises on offer.
Heavy on themes of obsession, duality and loss of identity, the film needed a higher calibre of actors than your usual psycho-thriller and the ensemble smash their parts to pieces. In a positive way.
Alongside Portman, Vincent Cassel delivers a world-class slimeball as the ballet director, an arch-manipulator and possible sexual predator who drives his players to distraction with unattainable goals, favouritism, endless rehearsal drills and being French. The cad.
Winona Ryder gives solid support as the bitter former ballet-star that Portman replaces, Barbara Hershey is twee yet terrifying as Nina's smothering mother, and Mila Kunis rinses away any notion that she will always be Meg from "Family Guy" with a performance of guileless joviality and simmering sensuality. It's a double-edged turn that could've derailed many actresses, but Kunis balances the different aspects with aplomb and emerges a star. And she's about the cutest damn thing on the planet.
Sparing plot details, this is a high-class B-Movie, swinging between earthy documentary style, exploitative erotica, Cronenbergian body-horror and Argento-esque psychedelic terror with dizzying speed and skill. A ripping good wheeze.