The best compliment you can pay an actor is when you say that you forgot it was them up on the screen. In this film Natalie Portman is a dancer. She has managed to totally subsume her own persona into the character of Nina. It is a breathtaking performance. The anxiety, the mania, the self-doubt and the grace. Her dancing is amazing. Her weight loss amplifies the dog eat dog world of the ballet.
Young ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman – Closer, V for Vendetta) is a member of a ballet troupe in New York. Her entire life is dancing. She eats (or doesn't), breathes and sleeps ballet. Living with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey – Beaches, Hoosiers), a former ballerina herself, Nina has previously only been a supporting dancer, but hopes to very soon be the lead.
When former prima ballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder – Girl, Interrupted, Edward Scissorhands) retires the lead spot opens up. Every girl in the company wants the lead. Under the guidance of company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel – Ocean's Thirteen, Derailed), an audition for the lead in the company's next production Swan Lake is held. The competition and anxiety for Nina is amped up when Thomas brings in a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis – Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Date Night). Lily catches Thomas's eye and Nina feels threatened.
Swan Lake requires a dancer who can dance as the White Swan, the innocent girl, and the Black Swan, the sexy temptress. The White Swan is no problem for Nina, but the Black Swan is a whole other kettle of fish. The competition between the two dancers turns into a twisted kind friendship. Lily helps Nina get in touch with her dark side, but at what cost?
A fantastic film though not one that is for everyone. It is visually stimulating and almost like an opera at times. I found my stomach in knots during the entire picture and was totally taken for a ride. Entranced from the opening credits until the end. I was thrilled, tense, confused, and worried. A film that keeps you alert and thinking throughout.
A beautiful nightmare put up on the big screen by director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler). He certainly is adept at creating raw, visceral films that are filled with moments of horror that are more disturbing than what you see in films of that genre. He wisely allows it to build up slowly and then turns up the dial quickly on the insanity. Like his two female leads, there is no fat on this film. He does not allow it to drag for even a moment.
Natalie Portman confirms her status as one of the best young actresses in film today. She is able to convey the innocence, repressed sexuality and tumble into insanity of Nina. A girl moving towards adulthood. I was terrified by Nina at times. Not sure what she was going to do next. The transformation she undergoes with the character from the beginning of the film until the end scene when she puts the makeup on should earn Portman a Best Actress nomination.
The supporting cast is equally strong. Cassel is slimy, Kunis is sexy and has your eyes riveted to her every time she is on the screen. Hershey is perfect as the monstrous, controlling mother.
Please don't disrespect the film by going to it merely to see the girl on girl scene between Portman and Kunis. Yes, it is hot, but just a method of showing the change that Nina is undergoing. Nothing gratuitous about it.
Great film making, acting, cinematography, and story. Definitely an Oscar worthy film.