Anthony's Film Review

Black Swan (2010)

Natalie Portman delivers a brave performance in this disturbing yet engrossing psychothriller...

Good Hollywood actors play a variety of roles. The really good ones, though, can play roles that are outside their comfort zone, or at least out of the ordinary compared to previous roles. For actress Natalie Portman, the 2010 movie Black Swan presents her with an opportunity to do just that. I've always considered her to be a relatively angelic actress, playing female characters who are fairly intelligent and far from overly trashy (even her role as a stripper in 2004's Closer doesn't come close). But now, with Black Swan, Portman takes a huge step further by playing a good girl gone bad. The results are astonishing.

Here, she is a young ballerina named Nina, who dreams of being the leading White Swan in an upcoming stage production of Swan Lake. Although she is talented enough to be part of a ballet group, one problem is evident: insecurity. You can see it in her face a lot of times, especially during an early scene of a rehearsal where she is constantly looking around while all of the other ballerinas are focused on their moves. Nina's feelings stem from her perfectionist mother Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey) as well as two other characters: Lily (Mila Kunis), a rival ballet dancer whose dark clothes and loose personality make her like the Black Swan, and Beth (Winona Ryder), a former dancer who last played the White Swan role. Adding to the conflict is Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), a ballet director who makes shameless sexual advances towards the dancers.

All of this occurs in the first third of the movie, which very much plays out like a standard drama. Although Nina wins the part of the White Swan, her personal issues lead her to the film's turning point, a sequence in which sin and temptation pull her right in. From there, the rest of the movie plays out as what it really is: a psychological thriller. Nina now finds her world turned upside-down as her behavior takes a dark 180-degree turn, jeopardizing her role in Swan Lake. She becomes increasingly fearful and hostile, both of which reinforce each other. This is accompanied by several shocking scenes depicting blood and sharp objects, including two with sudden violence. There are also a couple of sexually charged scenes, most notably a lesbian sex scene that is so steamy that it is, in my opinion, borderline pornographic.

I should make it clear now, if I haven't done so already, that this is a rather disturbing movie. Not that it's a bad thing, because I do enjoy movies like this. Still, I can say that seeing Nina transform into a real-life Black Swan is very much like seeing one's own teenage daughter get into a lot of deep trouble. As a thriller, the movie can suddenly break relatively silent moments by throwing in shocking images. It even uses special effects to visualize Nina's mental state, like when she sees herself physically turning into the Black Swan. Overall, if you're OK with this type of movie, you'll likely enjoy it.

Thankfully, all is not lost. Without giving anything away, there is still a brighter side to the story as it reaches its conclusion. That was a moment where I reflected on the movie as a whole. I found it engaging and intense, worthy of consideration for awards. But more importantly, Natalie Portman cannot be ignored. She has done a terrific job with Black Swan, playing two sides of the same character and doing things on screen that she's never done before. If you're looking for a sign that this actress is able to expand her career, look no further than this film. It's a big step up for Natalie Portman, and she deserves recognition for it.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Black Swan, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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