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Entertainment Value Saved by Last Act, but Generally Simplistic and Gimmicky.
on May 8, 2011
Darren Aronofsky made such a bold, provocative debut with "Pi" back in 1998. But his career has been nothing but overwrought un-realism ever since. "Black Swan" is an uninspired rehash of Roman Polanski's superb "Repulsion" (1965), about an apparently schizophrenic, sexually repressed young woman who descends into madness amid paranoid hallucinations and libidinous men. "Repulsion" is a great film, while "Black Swan" is overwrought, gimmicky, not the least bit credible, and badly acted -not that it matters considering the superficiality of the exercise. It's also a ballet movie with hardly any ballet in it. Natalie Portman is in great shape but looks absurdly strained performing the simplest of movements.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is an emotionally disturbed young ballerina who seems to be living out the ambitions of her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey). Nevertheless, she is the hardest-working ballerina in her company, technically perfect, but lacking a certain passion. She dreams of dancing the Swan Queen in "Swan Lake", and, to her surprise and everyone else's, the company's choreographer Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) gives her the part. Mr. Leroy is confident in Nina's ability to play the White Swan but is concerned that she lacks the sexual energy and transcendence to play the Black Swan. The problem preoccupies Nina as well, and the stress erodes her grasp on reality and brings on increasingly violent psychotic episodes.
Natalie Portman does not have the acting chops for this role. She does not know how to convey emotion except by emoting. She does the entire film with furrowed brow. A better actress could have made Nina's torment believable but not her situation. It's simply not credible that this weak, flagrantly unstable person would possess the single-minded drive of a professional ballet dancer, much less that anyone would give her the lead in a production. She looks like she's going to have an anxiety attack in every scene. Mila Kunis, on the other hand, is charismatic as rival ballerina Lily, who seems to be genuinely trying to be friendly and helpful to Nina despite the latter's paranoia. Kunis' sassy, lewd and tattooed temptress screams out for more screen time than she gets.
Instead, we get crotch shots, hallucinations, CGI that allows Nina to sprout feathers, and very little ballet. On the bright side, "Black Swan" gets better as it goes along, because the story grows into Natalie Portman's panicked performance. By the final act, Nina has reason to break down under the stresses of her paranoia, hallucinations, and determination to become the Black Swan. The film is saved by good pacing, a suspenseful final act, and a climactic ending. But one lesson that filmmakers should find in "Black Swan" is that there is little point in setting a movie in a ballet company if there isn't going to be ballet dancing in it. Another is that a character's personality has to suit her role. And don't expect untalented actresses to be able to carry a dramatic film for an hour and 50 minutes.