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Black Swan - Movie Review by A.D.Harris

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The Oscar nominations are out, the awards ceremony being only a few weeks away and in case you hadn't noticed, Black Swan is a big deal. Arriving towards the end of 2010, it snuck up and critics began throwing plaudits at it left, right and centre. It's the dark, beautifully disturbing story of a ballet dancer who wants nothing more than to play the Swan Queen in the NYC Ballet's performance of Swan Lake.
The storyline is wickedly clever, meshing together a real life version of the ballet whilst integrating that around characters performing the Swan Lake at the same time. It's trippy, dark, gothic, spooky, bizarre, beautiful and crazy but it's also a work of a genius behind the camera, who draws out a performance in Natalie Portman she is unlikely to ever top. It should firmly secure her spot as one of, if not the finest actress of out generation, her performance oozing in suspense, beauty, confusion and style that leaves you never totally knowing what she is thinking yet also feeling pity for her even when some of her actions are far too dark for any usual heroine. It's a brave character to have leading the movie and required the performance of the year to pull off and I can safely confirm it gets it.
Directing the show is Darren Aronofsky, last seen pulling a great comeback performance from Mickey Rourke in 2008 wrestling powerhouse 'The Wrestler' and in some respects Black Swan takes a lot of ideas that Aronofsky used there; the camera shots from behind the character as they move throughout their surroundings, the opening sound of an audience cheering on our protagonist. However, unlike 'The Wrestler', which had its foot very much planted in reality, Black Swan enters a dream-like state from its first moments, very literally in fact as Portman's Nina dreams about herself performing the Black Swan. From here till the very last moments of fading to black the movie grabs you into a world of suspense, tension and bizarre bueaty, every camera angle designed to hold your focus, pulling you right underneath Nina's skin as her character threatens to take over her life.
Alongside Portman is two stellar performances from Mila Kunis as Nina's friend/nemisis Lily and Vincent Kassel as head of the performance Thomas. Kunis has never been better, blurring the lines even further with a performance of total beauty. Aronofsky makes sure to capture her flowing hair and natural looks in every shot she is in offering the audience Nina's viewpoint that this girl is a threat to everything she wants to be.
It's this twisting and playing with the audience, making us wonder whether we were supposed to admire or be in disgust of what we are witnessing that makes Black Swan tick, and Kunis nails her side of the line, her beauty is totally mesmerizing and had Portman not been stealing the show then more plaudits would be coming her way.
And for all that Kunis plays with beauty, Cassel is designed to be the beast, a man with all the power that Nina desires; he possesses the decision of who will be the Swan Queen. Cassel squirms, charms and shocks as Thomas; his creepy performance is the side of the trio that has received less praise, but it is a harsh fact that his more controlled and subtle performance is easier forgotten more than his co-stars. Whenever he is on screen you feel tense and slightly worried about what he may do next, a scene where he is left alone with Nina in the practising hall one of the more shocking scenes the movie offers.
Those two brilliant co-stars allow Nina to stand in the middle, beauty and horror all around her, and the blurred lines between what you see and what you don't is what makes Black Swan so genius.
I can't call myself a man who loves ballet, but I have to confess that the ballet scenes in the film are exquisitely done, so beautiful and flowing, the camera so craftily following the actions that it made me really want to go watch some for real.
The only slight criticism I could find is that as Black Swan heads into it's final act it loses some of it's subtle touches as it goes for a much bigger and dramatic climax. In some ways it loses some of the tension that the earlier parts provided; the dream state and reality differentiation becomes too blurred and messy, a scene where the Nina & Lily have a fight in the dressing room goes too hard for shocking the audience member that it actually lacks impact of the first act. Less definitely is more...
That being said, the ending hits you in the chest just as much as 'The Wrestler' did, and you don't know how to feel when you leave the theatre; definitely disturbed but also with a sense of 'What Just Happened?'
I couldn't work out if I was happy or sad; I'm totally sure however, that is exactly what Aronofsky was going for.
I can safely assure you that Black Swan is his best masterpiece to date. I can only hope that come Oscar night it get's the awards it deserves; it is the most bold, brave and daring movie to rear it's head in the awards season.
If the old saying 'He Who Dares, Wins' is true, then I should have nothing to worry about.



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Twitter: @AdDHarris
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