Beginning as an independent release, Black Swan successfully grew to become not only one of the biggest surprise hits of 2010 but also one of the best pictures. Those two feats alone do not give Black Swan the justice it deserves, as this masterpiece by director Darren Aronofsky is a film that will be remembered, and talked about for years to come. It’s just that powerful.
Stepping into the artistic world of ballet, Black Swan follows extremely talented ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as she attempts to break away from the pack, and land the lead role in her ballet company’s upcoming retelling of the classic, Swan Lake. With the odds against her, Nina convinces her artistic director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) — in an unconventional way, to say the least — that she has what it takes to handle the dual-personas that the lead role requires. While he believes she’s capable of playing the part of the White Swan, who represents innocence, perfectly, he has doubts that she can pull off the seduction, and the sensuality required to successfully portray the Black Swan, a role that can make or break the entire performance. While he gives Nina the shot, Thomas also has his eye on the company’s newest dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who is the polar opposite of Nina in almost every regard, aside from talent.
As the pressure builds, and Nina continues to push herself to the limit, day in and day out, focusing intently on mastering the art of the Black Swan, she quickly finds her perception of reality unraveling. As her psychosis begins to envelop her life, Nina finds herself in a nightmarish state, where she begins to believe that everything she’s ever worked for is in jeopardy.
I found Black Swan to be one of the most engrossing movies I’ve seen in years. It’s the type of film that completely shut the rest of the world off, and held my complete attention right from the start. It’s a simply mesmerizing film, that is done to perfection on every level required.
Making a thriller that focuses primarily on ballet is something that doesn’t exactly scream box-office success, and yet the brilliant work done by Aronofsky behind the camera helped break the conventional mould that one may have expected coming into Black Swan. His work here is captivating, constantly fine tuning the level of suspense that’s released to the viewer, leading them exactly where he wants them as he ties the film together.
The work done by cinematographer Matthew Libatique brings the thrilling shots in Aronofsky’s vision to life. Libatique gives the film the perfect mix of light and dark tones to accompany the themes of the film, and really help bring to life the psychological trauma that Nina is inflicting upon herself as she taps deeper and deeper into her dark side. The work of these two men, mixed with the superb film editing done by Andrew Weisblum, and the wonderful original score created by Clint Mansell, help make Black Swan one of the most visually stunning, attention grabbing, unforgettable films in quite some time.
Of course, while all those roles were incredibly vital in making Black Swan the film it was, it’s hard to say if any of them would have succeeded without the career-defining performance given by Portman. While she’s still got plenty of gas left in the tank, Portman’s portrayal of Nina is almost indescribable. While watching, you knew that the Oscar race for best actress was over even before the film was.
While Portman completely carries the film, and deserves insurmountable praise for her work, without her co-stars bringing their own A-game, the entire movie would have suffered. Needless to say, both Kunis and Cassel are fantastic, with Kunis garnering a Golden Globe nomination for her work, and Cassel bringing the perfect amount of smugness, and power to a vital role that helps propel the movie along. Also, Barbara Hershey (Insidious) was perfectly cast as Nina’s over-protective, overzealous mother, Erica; as was Winona Ryder, who played the former lead ballerina, Beth Macintyre, whom Nina replaces.
No amount of words, or praise can truly define the experience that this film delivers from the time it begins, to when the screen fades to black. The story is so well told, and so well acted by all involved, that I was left both speechless, and motionless after it came to an end. Black Swan is a film that simply must be seen.
The audio is a 5.1 Dolby Digital, and sounds fantastic. The musical score us beautiful, and comes through clearly, as does the film’s dialogue. The video, which is presented in a 2.40:1 Widescreen format looks wonderful. The important light and dark tones of the film come through crisp and sharp, and really help set the mood for the entire film.
The DVD release of Black Swan received a single special feature, while the Blu-ray received a wealth of extras. Obviously if you have the choice, Blu-ray is the way to go; however, don’t feel completely shafted if you can only get your hands on the DVD release, as the single extra that is available is a gem.
Metamorphosis: A Behind-the-Scenes Documentary from Darren Aronofsky – This feature comes in at a hearty 49 minutes in length, and really covers everything a fan of the film would like to see. With plenty of interviews from the cast and crew, as well as day to day coverage of the actual filming of the movie, this is something for those who like to hear the ins and outs of a project, and for those who just want to get the perspective from those involved.
Black Swan is a hauntingly, well crafted thriller, that builds suspense at just the right tempo, and in doing so, creates a film that doesn’t ask for your complete attention, but instead, steals it. It’s a film that has lingered inside my mind since I first saw it, and upon repeat viewings, I don‘t see it leaving any time soon. It’s a masterful work of art by all involved, and it receives my highest recommendation.
Fox Searchlight Pictures Presents Black Swan. Directed by: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey. Running time: 108 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD and Blu-ray: March 29, 2011.
Tags: Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, suspense, Thriller