FILM RATING: 3 stars
To be honest, when I first saw this movie poster for Black Swan (2010), I never thought I would go see this film in the theater. It was just so far outside of my normal movie “box” that it didn’t appeal to me. I figured I would wait for Blu-ray to rent it. And then the critical buzz for it began. I had only seen one Darren Aronofsky film, The Wrestler (2008), up until recently when a friend of mine turned me on to The Fountain (2006). Both movies were good, so I decided to go check out Black Swan and see if this interesting director could make an interesting movie about ballet.
Aronofsky did make an interesting and well-crafted movie here. But I’ve got mixed feelings about the final results. I’m not going to summarize the plot to the film since I don’t feel there’s much of one here, so what little there is should be left for you to discover while watching the film. I think the strongest part of the film is the middle act where we see Natalie Portman’s lead character Nina Sayers become more like the black swan instead of the white swan that she has been all of her life. It’s the mixing of the two aspects of her psychology, black & white, yin & yang, that interested me the most. The first act where we are introduced to Nina and the rest of the characters in the story dragged a bit for me. And I found Nina’s innocent and naive “white swan” life to honestly be annoying. I just didn’t buy into this young woman in New York City being so immature and princess-like in our modern 21st century. Especially as an urban girl. I couldn’t wait for her to get “real” and more like the black swan. I see what Aronofsky was doing here in heavily emphasizing the contrast between the white swan and black swan personalities of Portman’s character as we move through the movie, but it just felt too forced, theatrical, and over-the-top for me to relate to it and enjoy it. Being a 37-year old man whose never been in to theater or ballet, the story itself was not very appealing from the beginning. And rather than make that world more accessible to me, I think Aronofsky closed me off to it by stereotyping it and making it feel fake and theatrical. It may be that the real world of ballet is like Aronofsky’s portrayal, but that doesn’t mean it makes a good film…at least not for me.
The bottom line is that the story just didn’t work for me overall. That being said, I did really enjoy the scenes between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, who plays Nina’s competition within the ballet group. Kunis is more purely black swan compared to Portman’s white swan. And the pairing of these two personalities gave real sizzle to those scenes where they psychologically, verbally, and physically battle each other. They had onscreen chemistry that was exciting. Kunis really showed her acting talents in her role as Lily in Black Swan. I can’t wait to see her get more dramatic roles where she can put those talents to use further. Vincent Cassel, as ballet director Thomas Leroy was great as well. His dialogue just chewed into Portman, creating very highly charged scenes between the two. Barbara Hershey as Nina’s mom was a little too crazy for me to appreciate. Her botched-looking facial plastic surgery was distracting and creepy. I’m assuming that Hershey made the mistake of trying to look younger than her age at some point in her life and got plastic surgery that just hasn’t held up well over the years. Either that or she just hasn’t aged well. Either way, I didn’t care for Hershey in this film. Finally, Winona Ryder has a small part in the film that brings her back to the screen in a good role after many years of wasting away in bad to average movies.
Now aside from the story within Black Swan, there is some real filmmaking craft in the movie. I think the cinematography by Matthew Libatique is well shot and good looking. There was a little too much handheld photography for my taste. When I actively notice that the camera is handheld in a film, I tend to dislike it because then it feels more forced to me. And there were times in Black Swan when I had no idea why handheld was the choice. It just made me feel dizzy and sick from all the heavy jittery camera moves. I like handheld photography, but it can be over done too. Still, there is some incredible photography in Black Swan that makes it worth seeing simply for that.
Clint Mansell’s music for the Black Swan is good. Not quite as good as I think he did with The Fountain (2006) and Moon (2009), but his reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky’s music from Swan Lake is interesting and something that I want to listen to on its own to really appreciate. Mansell does a good job of helping emotionally tell Aronofsky’s story in this film, and that is where a good film score starts in my opinion. Production design, costumes, make-up and everything in the art department for Black Swan are top notch. It’s all of these supporting aspects of filmmaking that really helped keep Black Swan enjoyable for me to watch when I was bored or disinterested with the story. I could focus on the music, photography, and everything else and notice how well done each was.
I give Black Swan 3 stars out of 5. What keeps it from a rating of 2.5 stars is the cinematography, music, production design, and acting. The story of Black Swan is a mix of drama, thriller, and horror genres with a bit of musical thrown in. I doubt that Black Swan will be a film that I watch repeatedly over the years because it was just too over-the-top for me. I can see why there are many critics and fans of this film that are enamored with it. But it just wasn’t a film for me. I can appreciate it like a fine wine, but like wine, it either tastes good to you or it doesn’t. And Black Swan left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. I suggest you wait and rent this film on Blu-ray to see if you have a taste for it.