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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Black Swan.

And so it is.

From the moment that Natalie Portman tip-toes onto the screen in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, we're treated to something very specific - the most subtle introduction to the grandest performance on screen this year. Portman is at once harrowing, breathtaking, daring, luminous, cunning, ... it's the performance of her career, and, dare say it, a lifetime. And, like Kirsten Dunst in All Good Things, who the hell knew she could do that? There are moments in an actors career where everything seems to click. Natalie Portman has one of those moments in this film - she's in a bathroom stall, and it's a phone call to her terrifying mother (the formidable Barbara Hershey).  We know from that moment that this isn't Queen Amidala anymore - this is the birth of a stunning new actress, and I honestly can't wait for what she does next.

The rest of the film, elegantly surrounding her, thankfully is just as formatted. Its eerie perception of perfection and its quiet pacing (despite being a rather loud film) keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. Aronofsky has had a knack for exploring the internal rupturing of his lead characters, from Pi to The Wrestler. It's a formula he'll probably never drop, and that might be for the best - it might be where his brilliance lies most comfortably. As a director, he seems to be a mix of both early and late David Cronenberg - everything that made Cronenberg's work in the 80's and 90's so spectacular and industrial, and everything that makes his work now so human and restrained, they seem to meld together and find homes in all of Aronofsky's films. Hints of The Red Shoes are obviously afoot, as are shades of Perfect Blue. But, one can't be to sure that most of this didn't just come from that man's brain.

In a ballet company's "reinvention" on Swan Lake draws near, one dancer (Portman) pushes herself to the extremes of humanity to be 'perfect' and get every step right. It's an alarmingly simple base for such a towering achievement of a film.

The performances, really, though, are what make this film as genuine as it is. For all of its craftsmanship, were it not for the likes of Natalie Portman and her company, we wouldn't have our film. So, we're brought to the other real star, here - Mila Kunis.

It's about as honest a supporting performance as you can find in theaters today - scenes were stolen, left and right, but true to form, she never steals the spotlight. There's a grave difference. She leaves her mark on the character and on the film, but she doesn't chew her scenery and she knows when to reign it in. She's given her big moments, but she's never flashy or flamboyant - just... honest. Incredible performance, which hints at many damages in her character without ever losing the focus. 

Vincent Cassell, Barabra Hershey, and (welcome home) Winona Ryder are all excellent in their time on screen, as well. Ryder's loud announcement into the film is reminiscent of her triumphant return to larger studio work, after middling indie stomping, and she's wonderful. Truly wonderful. Cassell takes his persona (intense, yet oddly gentle) and gives his best work in recent memory, and Hershey offers a screen mother that could make Carrie's mom look sane and cuddly. 

All in all, this isn't a film for the feint. It's graphic, in both violence and sexuality, and graphic in its psychology. When budding sexuality becomes bludgeoning sexuality, and when the strive for perfection begets nothing but destruction, we're gifted a film like this. It's... perfect. Just like our dancer.