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129 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dark And Dangerous Delirium Of The Dance, December 21, 2010
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This review is from: Black Swan (DVD)
With this dark and audacious look at artistry and dance, bad boy auteur Darren Aronofsky once again pushes a film's intensity past all point of reason. "Black Swan" will be alternately hailed a masterpiece and an over-indulgent piece of excess. Or, more appropriately, perhaps it is a masterpiece of excess. More akin to the fantastical setting of "The Fountain" than to the confrontational realism of "The Wrestler," Aronofsky has created a remarkably vivid bit of lunacy with "Black Swan." And to be fair, I think he absolutely succeeds in what he has set out to do--creating a hyper dramatic nightmare that blurs the lines between reality and madness. Thematically, many films have covered the same ground--but few so visually, stylishly, or in so unapologetic a way. No matter how many films Aronofsky unleashes on the world, I will always hold the feverish "Requiem For a Dream" closest to my heart--but for visceral thrills, "Black Swan" rates a very high second.

Equal parts "The Turning Point," "All About Eve," and "Repulsion," "Black Swan" tells the story of a ballerina struggling for perfection. Natalie Portman is cast as the dancer given the shot of a lifetime--to play the lead in a new revival of "Swan Lake." It's a dream part, but one that is fraught with peril. The director, Vincent Cassel, thinks Portman is perfect for the technical aloofness of the program's White Swan but lacks the fire and abandon when the dance transforms her into the Black Swan. And Portman pushes herself and pushes herself, to the point that her body is manifesting strange physical trauma. Cassel tries to unleash the passion of the Black Swan while the company's newest dancer (Mila Kunis) seems to embody the darker freedoms that Portman needs to embrace to be successful. And the more Portman throws herself into the role mentally and physically, the film starts to push into the territory of unrepentant psychological thriller.

Portman's descent into madness is exquisitely uncomfortable and off kilter. As the film becomes progressively violent and unpredictable, the lines between what is real and what is imagined become impossible to untangle. Aronofsky stages it all like a brilliantly choreographed high wire act. If you go with the flow, you'll be caught up in a thrillingly original nightmare. Portman has never been better. She pushes herself both physically and psychologically here, and hers is surely one of the most heartrending and affecting performances of the year. Cassel is perfect straddling the line between mentor and villain, Kunis has just the requisite wildness, and Barbara Hershey goes for broke as Portman's domineering mother. However, in approximately three minutes of screen time, it is Winona Ryder (as an aging dancer replaced by Portman) that provides one of the film's most indelible performances.

That said, I did love "Black Swan." I won't say that it's brilliantly filled with deep meaning--but I will say that it's brilliantly entertaining. The dancing is perfection and the final performance is absolutely chilling, truly not something to be forgotten! A great score (it's hard to go wrong using Tchaikovsky), dynamic cinematography, top notch performances, fantastic visual effects all combine to make this one of the truly memorable films of 2010. Let's hope Aronofsky never loses his touch for demented fever dreams--even as he's moving into Wolverine territory. KGHarris, 12/10.
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