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Mike Dunn's Reviews - Black Swan

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I've been a fan of Darren Aronofsky since his debut in 1998 with π (Pi), a psychological thriller in which a number theorist obsesses and dedicates most of his adult life and fragile psyche to numbers. Despite π's modest budget, Aronofsky managed to create a complicated yet intriguing film with its basis being in quite a boring subject.

After π, Aronofsky created the more commerically-successful Requiem for a Dream (a film that will put anyone off drugs), the unsuccessful romantic-drama The Fountain, and the critically acclaimed The Wrestler. Aronofsky still had to create a film I disliked. So that's why I was quite confident when I saw the trailer for his newest psychological thriller Black Swan. Anyone who hasn't yet seen the trailer on YouTube etc, please watch it now. I'll wait.

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Creepy right? I was incredibly excited by Black Swan's marketing strategy also. Five different styles of posters, all classically made and aesthetically pleasing, and all of the depicting a woman turning into the titular black swan. Despite the trailer showing more of a physical transformation, the film effectively treads the line between surreal and cerebral.

Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers, stunningly played by Natalie Portman in a career-high performance. Nina is a member of a prestigious New York ballet school who is picked to be the lead role in their new production of 'Swan Lake'. As the lead, Nina has to embody the dual roles of The White Swan (eloquent and timid) and The Black Swan (passionate and sensual), a task that director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell) doubts Nina can do. Through Leroy's advances and encouragement from fellow ballet dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina begins to tap into her sensual side, resulting in her protected and repressed life becoming more at risk.

Can I just say? Annette Benning, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Williams; don't practice your acceptance speeches this year. Natalie Portman is walking away with the Best Actress Oscar this year, hands down. Your work in your respective films may be very impressive, but no actress has performed with as much passion and enthusiasm as Portman does in Black Swan. Her transformation from a timid supporting-ballerina to a driven no-nonsense, obsessed performer is as mesmerising as it is disturbing. Her character arc is the most prominent I have seen in a while, and I was captivated by this one woman's change in personality and appearance.

Her co-stars are also brilliant for Nina to interact with. Mila Kunis plays Nina's enigmatic and spontaneous friend/rival Lily with lots of vigour and believability; Vincent Cassell confidently acts as the head of production Thomas, with his high expectations for Nina and guiding (and wandering) hands forming the mold; and Barbara Herschey chillingly plays Nina's mother Erica Sayers, a failed dancer turned amateur artist who tries to control much of Nina's life. All the cast add another layer to the film and to the breakdown of Nina's psyche, especially Herschey, who's performance more than deserves recognition from the Oscar committee, however like a certain Mr. Nolan, Herschey will have to go waiting.

Although it's not all about the actors. Everything in Black Swan feels as carefully choreographed as the ballet it portrays. The music by Clint Mansell is as beautifully constructed as any of his previous work, and he utilises the Swan Lake score masterfully. Aronofsky's direction has rightfully earned him an Oscar nomination, as his film tentatively plays with the surreal hallucination scenes, hoping the audience will stick with the film during these confusing moments. The ballet scenes also are poetically staged and arranged, as well as breathtakingly performed by Portman and Kunis. Their dedication can clearly be seen, and Portman's final performance as The Black Swan truly had me captivated.

Seriously, don't let the films surreal moments put you off watching this absolute masterpiece of a film. The performances from the cast, especially Natalie Portman, are worth the ticket price alone. Those combined with the amazing soundtrack, breathtaking choreography and truly twisted storyline all create a film that will definitely stay with you after the curtain is drawn.

Rating - 9/10


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