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Black Swan (2010)

A 2010 psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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A fierce, fascinating film with a great performance by Natalie Portman

  • Dec 19, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+4
BLACK SWAN is the story of a ballerina driven to insanity by her drive to succeed and to be perfect. It's also one of the more purely fascinating movies of 2010. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career as Nina, the dancer. Nina has been with the professional ballet company headed by Thomas (Vincent Cassel) for a number of years, and she's hoping this will be the year she gets a lead role. He's reviving SWAN LAKE, and needs a new White Swan/Black Swan. Nina is a technically proficient dancer who will do well as the prim, proper, chaste White Swan. But where is her fiery passion and urgency that will be needed to play the Black Swan? She doesn't dance with the lack of self-control that his character calls for.

Portman's character is something of a cliché. How many times do we see the driven perfectionist who can't let go and allow herself to let her feelings show because she's so concerned with getting the technical aspects perfect? It's hardly a new idea. Neither is the introduction of the character Lily (Mila Kunis), a carefree, full-of-smiles dancer who joins the company. She isn't so dedicated to her art that she can't go out and party. But she dances with the ease and passion that Portman cannot muster. The two develop a tentative relationship…but is Lily really a fierce competitor, trying to psyche out Nina?

And Nina doesn't need much mental manipulation. She lives with her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey), a failed dancer who babies and controls her daughter to the point of suffocation. Nina is also mentally teased by Thomas…who tries to trick and manipulate his dancer into showing something new on stage. To say that Nina puts tremendous pressure on herself would be an understatement. She chews her nails and compulsively scratches herself, leaving tears in her skin. And she sometimes sees things that aren't there. Nina is tightly wound, neurotic and obsessive when the film begins. As things progress, we can see, with great clarity, how she begins to lose herself more and more.

I don't want to say much more, because the journey Nina takes is fascinating. What's amazing to me is that this movie is really a potboiler or melodrama. It follows a clichéd path, treads familiar ground. Yet every moment of it feels new and real and dangerous. Director Darrin Aronofsky (THE WRESTLER) has done an amazing job of constructing the film to feel like a deep psychological study and a period thriller at the same time. It feels like something from the ‘60s or ‘70s and like something modern and edgy at the same time. He has chosen to film in digital video, and for once, the low budget choice works. The film has a slight darkness and fuzziness to it that only helps the mood.

The screenwriters have also written about the details of ballet and SWAN LAKE in a way that lets viewers totally unfamiliar with the story have a good sense of what is going on. We understand the show and what Nina is trying to achieve. And for those many folks who say the ending is hard to figure out, I can only say, "you're trying too hard." It is a fascinating and gripping ending…but it is quite clear. Don't be turned away because you think you won't be able to "get" the film. I found it surprisingly accessible. My 18 year-old daughter had no trouble grasping it. (Although there was enough sexuality in the film to make me uncomfortable at having brought her.) I didn't hear people grumbling on the way out of the theater either (and the place was packed, by the way…I think this little art film is going to make some pretty decent money.)

And please don't miss it, because you'll miss some good (even great) performances. Cassel is perfectly cast in the very clichéd role of the artistic director. Pompous, self-centered and yet somehow alluring…we see the creative side along with his cruelty. Hershey is frightening in her role…reminding me of Bette Davis in her BABY JANE days. And Mila Kunis continues to tackle unexpected and challenging roles…and with BLACK SWAN, she has put her days as Jackie on THAT ‘70S SHOW behind her. And Natalie Portman is a slam dunk for an Oscar nomination with her riveting performance. She's on screen for the entire film, and must accomplish much of the dancing herself. She looks weary, frightened, fragile, strong and dedicated. Her work here is so accomplished and takes us on such a journey; I was exhausted by the end because the ferocity of her work gripped me so tightly. It's easily the best female performance of the year. For her work alone, the movie is worth seeing. Fortunately, there's plenty else to enjoy in the gripping, highly-recommended BLACK SWAN.

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December 23, 2010
I have been spreading the word on this one as well. I was very impressed with it! groovy review, you got the full 3 thumb spread!
December 26, 2010
Thanks for the kind words!
 
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More Black Swan (2010 film) reviews
review by . December 04, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
4 ½ Stars: Dancing With One's Own Personal Reflections....
Last time Darren Aronofsky impressed me this much was with the film “The Wrestler”; it was a cinematic experience that was filled with a methodical approach, careful calculation, character-driven dualism and compelling drama. Yes, admittedly I was excited to see his latest film “Black Swan” and it wasn’t anything I expected it to be and yet it became so much more. This film is tense, taut, filled with dramatic and horrific logic that will stay with you after the end …
review by . December 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Darren Aronofsky has achieved the impossible: he's made ballet cool. Seriously, get rid of the Best Film award and introduce the Made Something Cool That Was Hitherto Completely Uncool award, and then kick Guy Ritchie squarely in the unspeakables for making Sherlock Holmes.      First, he threw out all that ballet shoe shit and went straight for the jugular, combining Heath Ledger's Joker with Tyler Durden from Fight Club to give us "holy crap it's Natalie Portman": …
review by . January 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I don't admit to being a big Darren Aronosfky fan.  I enjoyed Pi and Requiem for a Dream, but he never became a director that I thought was worth putting on my radar.  He makes intriguing films to be certain, but Black Swan was the first time I saw one of his films and felt blown away by it.  Like I'd just sat through something magical, simple and yet very complex at the same time.  It has its moments where it goes overboard, scenes that go to extremes that, for the most …
review by . January 31, 2011
Ballet is an interesting activity. When done right, it can be mesmerizing and impressive as hell. The physical demands placed on the dancers are enormous (I recall reading a book that described ballet dancers as all being “half-crazed with hunger”), and I can only imagine how heavy the psychological burden must be, especially if you’re not the most stable person in the world to begin with. That’s situation in which a young dancer (Natalie Portman), finds herself in Black …
review by . January 12, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Haunted! HUNTED!
It’s no theatrical tricks but it certainly set the mood for the entire film. It’s seldom at first scene that I have an idea how to start a review, much less right at the very beginning of the show. Granted, I’ve read a couple of reviews here and there on this movie but I have managed to steer clear of knowing exactly what the movie entails. I know I don’t feel comfortable starting this movie, even though it has tempted me since I got hold of the dvd copy. I managed to steer …
review by . May 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I got this movie on DVD, which was good because even after you watch it, you need to go back and look at certain scenes again to try to determine if they were real or imagined. Portman is a profession ballet dancer vying for the starring role in a new version of Swan Lake in Lincoln Center. Portman is pushed forward by her domineering mother, who herself was a ballerina and keeps reminding Portman that she needed to retire at 28 to raise Portman.    Age is a continuing factor …
review by . April 16, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****       "Black Swan" is a paragon of psychological filmmaking; a wild melodrama, which was simply made for the sake of its own unique existence. The project was ambitious, and in some ways, I couldn't have seen it working. A film like this being this good just doesn't seem impossible, but then again, go ahead and try telling director Darren Aronofksy what's "impossible". I don't think that the man believes in the word. He's been making films for over …
review by . May 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
When i first saw the commericals for this movie it looked good, but then again its about ballet dancers....booooring right? WRONG! I was shocked and amazed at how much i liked this movie. It was enthralling, sexy, and at some points outright creepy. The movie starts off with Nina, a dancer in the new york ballet who is looking for her break into stardom after being out of the spotlight for several years with the company. When her boss announces that their current star will be retiring and he will …
review by . September 25, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Aronofky's Swan Dive
BLACK SWAN   Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin   Directed by Darren Aronofsky   Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder      Thomas Leroy: Perfection is not just about control.  It is also about letting go.      From my understanding, to be a true ballerina, one must always strive for perfection.  Your toes, your torso, your lines must be just so.  …
review by . December 24, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The beginning of the movie, is the movie. It tells the whole story of what is to come the rest of the way. Unlike the movie it takes place while our main character is asleep so we know that this isn't happening, the rest of the way the audience can never be sure what in the movie is real and what is not. From there we dip in and out of the mind of Darren Aronofsky as he places Natalie Portman in prime position to win an Oscar.      SYNOPSIS      Portman …
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I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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About this movie

Wiki

Black Swan is a 2010 American psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky. The film stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as ballet dancers in a New York City production of Swan Lake. The production requires a ballerina to play both the innocent White Swan and the sensual Black Swan. Nina (Portman) fits for the White Swan, Lily (Kunis) fits for the Black Swan, and the two compete for the parts. Aronofsky and Portman first discussed the project in 2000, and after a brief attachment to Universal Pictures, Black Swan was produced in New York City in 2009 under Fox Searchlight Pictures. Notable figures from the ballet world helped with film production to shape the ballet presentation. The film is set to premiere as the opening film for the 67th Venice International Film Festival in September 2010. The film will have a limited release on December 1, 2010.

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Details

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: December 1st, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz
Runtime: 103 minutes
Studio: Protozoa Pictures, Phoenix Pictures, Fox Searchlight
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