Sunday, 30 January 2011

Black Swan - A Film Review

BLACK SWAN stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis). A Fox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky (THE WRESTLER), BLACK SWAN takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.

So... A film about a bonkers ballerina? That's not exactly going to pack the multiplexes, right? Wrong. In UK cinemas Black Swan has not managed to topple The King's Speech from first place, but its takings have been almost £3million despite the fact that people are flocking to see Colin Firth. Cinemas have been reporting full showings, and positive reactions.

I went to a 13:10 showing on a Sunday afternoon - not exactly a prime time for cinema goers - and the screen was one of the larger ones in our complex. It was at least three quarters full, with a real mix of men and women, young and old. It seems many are curious about this film, especially after the critics have given in the nod in the Oscar nominations (for Best Picture and Best Actress amongst others).

I had been nervous about watching the film. I'd heard that it was extremely dark in parts, and featured some good old-fashioned horror scenes. I'm not good with horror, and had visions of walking out of the cinema because I couldn't cope.

However, I found myself absolutely mesmerised from beginning to end.

It is astounding to me that in such a powerful and haunting psychological thriller, with a number of great performances, Natalie Portman shines. She has been criticised for some rather wooden representations in the past (yep, Star Wars, I'm looking at you!) but here she plays the fragile, beautiful ballerina descending into madness in an absolutely sublime fashion. She is never less than completely believable and I struggled to take my eyes from her whenever she was on the screen.

The scenes featuring the dancing will do more to encourage people to head to the ballet than perhaps anything else I have seen. They were moving, technically brilliant and genuinely drew me into the film. Portman's dance as the Black Swan, in particular, will stay with me for a long time.

I actually enjoyed the tense atmosphere, the sharp shocks, the dark visions that the viewer can never be sure are real or imagined. It built gradually to a poignant crescendo which fitted the rest of the film perfectly.

The sex, drugs and bitching were the grimy underbelly to the pristine costumes and fluttering grace of the ballerinas, and provided a suitably dark backdrop to Natalie Portman's mental instability.

When I saw the descriptions about a film involving ballerinas, I believed it would sink without trace and be a forgettable affair. I was so wrong. This film deserves all its plaudits and more and is unforgettable. Go watch!


  1. I love ballet, but I don't think I can see this one - too dark for me. :/ Thanks for the review, though. I'm glad you enjoyed the film!

  2. Thanks for this! I'd heard that you don't see much dancing, although tehre was praise for other bits. Good to hear that someone who loves dancing liked it!

  3. i still havent seen it yet but am really looking forward to doing so - in the meantime, i'm taking my style cues from it

  4. I really want to see Black Swan. I don't care for traditional horror, but I dig dark and creepy and psychological thrillers, and it sounds like that is what this is.

    great review!

  5. I hadn't given the film any serious thought until reading this; I'll keep my eyes open now for a chance to see it.

    @ redhead - I'm not sure there is anything like traditional horror. There's definitely horror-by-numbers though.

  6. To be honest, I thought Portman was pretty wooden. For much of the film, she most closely resembled an aghast pigeon. She was disturbingly skinny as well, and the fact that I've not heard or read as many comments about that as I'd expect says a lot about the world we're living these days...

    However, overall I found it quite a good movie. Worth watching.

  7. Thanks for all your comments, folks - particularly because I branched away from my usual book reviewing.

    @Alex - I am usually the first to decry ultra skinniness in women, because I think it gives a false perception to youngsters. However, in this film I found it acceptable. Have you seen real ballerinas - in fact, dancers of most varieties? They are all lean muscle and there is literally nothing more to them. In this film, I felt that Portman was suitably skinny and sinewy, otherwise, believe me, I would have commented :-)

  8. Yeah, I know that it was part of the role, so fair enough. Found it hard to look at her sometimes; when you get a glimpse of her back or ribcage for instance. "Bloody hell, someone get that girl a cheeseburger!" Somehow I think it also might have had something to do with her lack of expression too; she just appearing gaunt, frail, and unhappy throughout. But then, once again, that was part of the fragility of the character and played a big part in making it uncomfortable viewing. Have to say that I didn't think she looked "beautiful" in this film though, just unhealthy.

  9. I guess much the same way as Christian Bale looked in The Machinist. Usually I find him very attractive, albeit a little cold, and to see him so thin really made me cringe. But all part of the role... These method actors really do give it their all! I'm comfortable with Natalie Portman - although never big, she has looked nicely healthy in all other film roles, so this was clearly something to aid her becoming the Swan Queen. Plus, I heard she did, like, a year of dance training before starting filming - that is going to develop some serious muscle!