Black Swan (15)

The ViewBristol Review

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Review byMatthew Turner20/01/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Stylishly directed, powerfully intense psychological thriller, with a superb script, stunning dance sequences and a fantastic central performance from Natalie Portman.

What's it all about?
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as Nina Sayer, a professional ballerina with the New York City ballet who dreams of playing the lead in Swan Lake in the company's new production. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace ageing prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder), Nina is his first choice, but she needs to convince him that she has the eroticism and darkness required to play the Black Swan as well as the virginal purity and control that makes her perfect for the part of the White Swan.

However, the arrival of sexy rival dancer Lilly (Mila Kunis) puts Nina under considerable psychological pressure, as she becomes convinced that Lilly wants to sabotage her and steal her role, a situation that Thomas unwittingly makes worse by casting Lilly as Nina's understudy. As her state of mind deteriorates, Nina becomes increasingly unable to tell fantasy from reality, imagining a series of disturbing physical injuries and vicious attacks by both Nina, Beth and, apparently, her own doppelganger.

The Good
Natalie Portman is sensational as Nina, delivering a powerful performance that's both heartbreaking and terrifying. There's also terrific support from Winona Ryder (whose faded film career makes her a fascinating choice for Beth, as 20 years ago she'd have played Portman's role), Vincent Cassel (who performs with just the right combination of Svengali and sleazy), Barbara Hershey (as Portman's retired ballerina mother) and a perfectly cast Mila Kunis, whose resemblance to Portman is eerily effective.

Aronofsky fills the film with intriguing details and subtle effects, e.g. an early scene where the eyes of a painting appear to move, but, like Nina, you're not sure if you are imagining it. He also overdoses on thematic and symbolic imagery, with some brilliantly framed mirror image shots, which pay off beautifully later on when Nina's reflection seems to come alive.

The Great
The imaginative script has a lot of fun with the parallels between Nina's story and the plot of Swan Lake (helpfully laid out slowly and carefully by Cassel early on). In addition, the ballet sequences are beautifully shot and the film builds to an audacious, extraordinarily intense climax that will have you staring open-mouthed with shock and wonder.

Worth seeing?
Impressively directed, superbly written and brilliantly acted, Black Swan is an intense psychological ballet thriller (with added lesbian overtones) that's by turns suspenseful, shocking and terrifying. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 23/01/2011 19:04

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