December 18, 2010

On Point

Friggin' ballerinas, man! I mean, I've danced on stage before, and yeah, it's hard, especially given that when I dance on stage, it usually involves some combination of acting and singing. But, damn! I can't even begin to fathom how friggin' brutal the life of a professional dancer must be. The physical toll must be tremendous! And if Black Swan, the brilliant new film from Darren Aronofsky, is anything to go on, the psychological toll must be out of this world. Black Swan is, plain a simple, a great film, masterfully crafted, wonderfully atmospheric, with a slew of pitch perfect performances. It's also, quite possibly, one of the most scary and disturbing movies I've ever seen. This is one film that's gonna be sticking with me for awhile and one that easily finds a spot among my favorite films of the year. Black Swan is tough, but it is fantastic!

Sinew

Black Swan concerns Nina, a ballerina for a prestigious and popular company in New York City. Upon winning the lead role in her company's production of Swan Lake, Nina is thrilled. As she begins to practice though, she discovers that performing the role of the Swan Queen requires her to delve into two sides of herself, the tame and innocent side fro the White Swan, and the seductive and dangerous side for the Black Swan. Nina, who is obsessed with perfecting the moves of the role, is a perfect match for the White Swan. She concentrates too hard on the moves, which makes nailing the Black Swan, a role that requires her to lose herself in the dance and seduce the audience, rather difficult. As Nina struggles with this, she enters into a bizarre and twisted friendship with Lily, a new addition to the company. If Nina is the White Swan, then Lily is the Black Swan, as she is rambunctious, impulsive, and seductive. Through her, a darker side of Nina begins to show itself. Unfortunately, the stress of the role begins to get to her, and soon, Nina is losing her grip on reality as opening night approaches.

The plot of Black Swan is damn fine, and told very well. It moves at just the right pace so that Nina's transformation is completely believable and genuine. We see her as the meek, timid girl for a good forty-five minutes, and then hints of her character change begin to show through. An angry snap here or a shove there until, by the third act, the sweet little girl we knew from the beginning of the film is nothing more than a memory. This is in addition to the depiction of the deterioration of Nina's fragile psyche. What starts as some mysterious scratches on her back turns into extremely disturbing and violent hallucinations and increasingly aggressive behavior. It's consistently haunting throughout the whole film, until the final 30 minutes, when the whole thing just goes fucking nuts! On top of all this, the film takes time to explore the other characters, from the impulsive Lily, to the director the company, Thomas, to the former star of the company, Beth, to Nina's overbearing mother, Erica. That sounds like a lot for one film, and would probably make for a hefty run time, but that's where you'd be wrong. Black Swan clocks in at a healthy hour forty-five. It's the mark of a well made and well told film when the runtime is short, but the substance is substantial. It's good stuff.

Natalie Portman's getting an Oscar! There! I said it! Everyone else is too, so quit acting so surprised and pick your jaw up off the floor. As Nina, she is simply astounding, delving down deep into this girl's tragic story and getting at all the juicy little tidbits! She is almost unbearably haunting as this tortured soul, going to the farthest extremes with the character. White Swan Nina is so pathetic and an incredible push over, constantly apologizing for not being able to do something. Black Swan Nina is simply terrifying, acting very aggressively, both violently and sexually, behaving in such a callous and seductive manner that anyone seeing her in the street would turn tail and run away. It's easily the best performance of Portman's career, and, since her career has been marked by some savagely brilliant work (Closer, Garden State), that is saying quite a lot! She will be walking up to that stage on Oscar night. That, you can count on!

Mila Kunis takes on a much heavier role than we have become accustomed to seeing her play as Lily. She does a great job capitalizing on everything that Nina is not, impulsive, quirky, and sexy. Though Kunis' trademark flair for comedy does get used at some points, it's her dramatic chops that are really used here, and it's a pleasure to watch. We don't get see Kunis flex her serious muscles all that often, which is shame, because she is great. We never really know where her character is coming from. Is she deliberately screwing with Nina in an attempt to wrest the role of the Swan Queen from her grasp, or is Nina just imagining the whole thing as a symptom of her rapidly declining mental health. We are never really sure, and Kunis masterfully stays true to this ambiguity.

Barbara Hershey is delightful as Nina's overprotective mother, who is clearly trying to live vicariously through her daughter as she becomes a star. Vincent Cassel is a quiet and alluring force as Thomas, the director of the company who will go to great lengths to see that Nina perfects the role, even going so far as to seduce her in rehearsal to show her what it's like. Winona Ryder adds to her ever growing list of awesome cameos as Beth, the scorned, former Prima Ballerina of the company.

As with his last film, Darren Aronofsky has gotten a group of really gifted actors to turn in outstanding performances, but it's his lead that steals the show! Like Mikey Rourke in The Wrestler, Natalie Portman has taken on the role of her career, and knocked it out the park, and then some. Rourke was robbed of that Oscar. The same thing will not happen to Portman. She's practically holding it already.

Deliciously Creepy

Aronofsky is no stranger to creeping us the fuck out and disturbing us with some truly twisted imagery. He showed us that much with Requiem for a Dream, but that drug induced freak-fest has nothing on Black Swan. This movie isn't just disturbing. It's positively twisted, absolutely terrifying in it's portrayal of one person slowly losing it. There are countless scenes here that will leave you clutching the arm rest in petrified fear. And the last 30 minutes? I, for one, was curled in my seat like a child because the stuff on screen was literally too much. There's one sequence where Nina finally loses it that is one of the most shockingly horrific things I've ever seen! Self-mutiliation? Talking pictures? A woman painfully turning into a bird? I'm getting chills just thinking about it!

And, shun me if will, but Aronofsky somehow manages to make all this crap sexy. That's right. Those are some arousing freak outs right there! The much touted about sex scene between Portman and Kunis is friggin' hot, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a hormonal teenage boy and getting to see two beautiful women make the beast with two backs turns me on. I mean, it does, but that's not the point. We're at a point in entertainment when a lesbian sex scene is nothing new, so it can now be used as a character moment. And unlike the horrendous Chloe earlier this year, the scene in Black Swan is just that. It's the epitome of Nina's sexual awakening, and is handled beautifully, focusing on her reactions rather than the more titillating aspects of the scene. Indeed, the sexual content in this flick is really explicit, but there is not a shred of nudity. All this sex is one of the many instigators of Nina's descent into madness. Aronofsky doesn't need the unclothed forms of the feminine figure to get the point across. He's too good for that.

A brief note on the dancing. Though a stand-in is doing all the hyper advanced stuff, for the most part, it is Portman and Kunis performing all the moves. They trained for six months before starting work on the film, practicing in between takes on their other projects. The goal was to make them look as close to real ballerinas as possible, right down to the body type. Consensus? Aced! Both Portman and Kunis look like naturals when dancing. Their bodies have been toned down to the level of the highest professional. There is barely a sliver of fat on those sinewy arms that Portman flaps about. It's just another example of how much time and care went into the making of the film.

Also. Point shoes? Whoever invented those is going straight to hell! What a sadist!

Black Swan is going to be stuck in my mind for a while! Films this haunting, disturbing, and terrifying have a habit of tormenting me as I try to sleep, but it's for those very reasons that I love the film so much! It's simply brilliant. There are no frills, no extra bullshit! Aronofsky set out to make a psychological thriller of the highest class. He succeeded admirably! Not only did a create a masterful portrait of a slow descent into madness, he managed to secure a wonderful crew of on point actors, with an astounding performance from Natalie Portman that is far superior to anything anyone else has turned in this year! Black Swan is fucking nuts! I love it to death!

On A Whole New Level!!!

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10 comments:

  1. OH GOOD GOD, this movie is the shit. Just beautiful, if in a slightly self-aware trashy way.

    Psychological horror.

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  2. Guess I know what your contribution to my year-end podcast is gonna be, huh?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Damn, long review. Good stuff though.

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  4. @Simon: Truer words have never been spoken!

    @Hatter: You never know. There might be another film out there that trumps this one, although this one is WAY up there!

    @Mike: Very good stuff, indeed!

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  5. As masterfully-crafted as Black Swan is, it's still very much Natalie Portman's performance as a ballerina pushed to the very edges of sanity that makes the film absolutely unforgettable.

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  6. @Simon: Truer words have never been spoken!

    @Hatter: You never know. There might be another film out there that trumps this one, although this one is WAY up there!

    @Mike: Very good stuff, indeed!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Damn, long review. Good stuff though.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Guess I know what your contribution to my year-end podcast is gonna be, huh?

    ReplyDelete