Review: Black Swan
We have fallen in love with Natalie Portman again and again. Beginning with her debut in The Professional, we have seen her take on a wide variety of dramatic roles that demonstrates a young woman with acting gifts. Even in the wretched Star Wars trilogy, she brought a gravity to Princess Amidala that went far beyond the meager scripts. All of this seems to have prepared her for the Academy Award winning rile in Black Swan. At 29, she has achieved a level of depth in her work that few peers can match.
Most of her work, such as roles in Closer, Cold Mountain, and even V for Vendetta, show a somber side to Portman, almost as cold and controlled as her Nina in this film, now out on disc from 20th Century Home Entertainment. The Darren Aronofsky-directed film is a visual treat and the psycho-sexual assault on the sense that one comes to expect from him.
Nina is a technically-perfect but emotionally cold ballerina who wins the role of the Swan Queen. Much of the film chronicles Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell) and his attempts to unlock Nina’s emotions. He does this by seducing her by degrees and telling her to seduce herself. Nina, though, can’t let go, largely because she has been raised by Erica (Barbara Hershey), who stopped dancing when she gave birth to Nina and has lived through her ever since. Nina has had issues in the past that manifest themselves anew as the pressure mounts in the weeks leading up to her premier performance.
She sees threats, she watches her body change in unimaginable ways, and even has a real or imaginary one-night stand with her perceived rival, Lilly (Mila Kunis). Her descent into madness or elevation to a higher plane of existence is masterfully portrayed by Aronofsky.
Portman makes this her signature role and despite the current kerfuffle over how much of the dancing she actually did, that’s secondary to the character she brought to life. Dancing doubles have been a fact of filmmaking for decades and this is just another tempest in a teapot. Jennifer Beals made us believe in Flashdance as Portman does here and that’s really what matters.
The movie looks fabulous in high definition with strong sound, which fits the subject matter. You might notice a grainy quality to some of the film that you may not have noticed on the silver screen. That has to do with Aronofsky’s choice to shoot the movie by blending 16mm Arriflex cameras and two Canon 1080p video-capable DSLRs. It all meshes quite well, adding to the unusual feel of the story.
The Blu-ray disc is packed with several extras, beginning with “Black Swan Metamorphosis” (48:50) is the detailed production process. Bringing the dancers and characters to life is carefully explained during the three-parts, complete with plenty of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. You also get “Ten Years in the Making”, a shorter piece on the lengthy development process as told by director and star; along with a useless look at Ballet (2:33), Production Design (4:00). Star and directed each get roughly three minute profiles and short snippets on “Preparing for the Role” and “Dancing with the Camera”. There are also five cast profiles; all culled from featurettes that originally ran on Fox Movie Channel.
The harrowing viewing experience that is at turns titillating, exciting, terrifying, and moving, shows moviemaking at its finest. An original concept, well-handled, can entertain and enlighten. This one is well worth your time and attention whether or not you like ballet.