Originally Reviewed – 1/6/2011
“Filmmaking at its core is a visual medium. Books can tell you what a character is thinking but film has to show you. As a result, the greatest films ever made all share one property: you should be able to turn off the sound and still get the jist of the movie” – My Literature in Film professor, Fall 2003
Black Swan, the latest film by director Darren Aronofsky, is a prime example of that mantra. Combining stunning cinematography, fine acting and a classic story of drive, artistic devotion and personal transformation, Black Swan is one of the most visually intense films to come out this season.
Featuring the talents of an emaciated Natalie Portman as the prima ballerina, Mila Kunis as her mind tripping competitor and Vincent Cassel as the production’s director, Black Swan is well cast from top to bottom. Portman in particular shines and will most likely gardener an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the technically perfect but dispassionate young star. While Portman starts slow via seemingly mundane interactions with her mother, she hits her stride once tasked with the job of dancing both the innocent White Swan and the sensual Black Swan. Portman is near brilliant in the way she plays an artist letting go and continues to build in strength all the way to the films spellbinding conclusion. As for the other principals, Kunis and Cassel do a fine job in their respective roles, but it’s Portman who’s going to get all the praise come February.
That being said, one can not talk about an Aronofsky film without bringing up cinematography which is damn near Oscar winning in Black Swan. The film is a visual masterpiece, breathtaking from the first frame and sweeping in emotional scale. The movie can be best described as tapestry in motion and much like a painter conveys emotion through brushstrokes, Aronofsky, along with cinematographer and long time collaborator Matthew Libatique, does the same with the camera. The special effects are also noteworthy in how seamlessly they are integrated with the story, allowing the audience to experience Portman’s slow descent first hand.
Playing much like an Aesop fable where the focus is the moral, Black Swan is one big metaphor from beginning to end. If you are familiar with the story of Swan Lake, you’ll know exactly how things are to play out in Black Swan. Unfortunately, in an effort to make sure everything in the film connects to their appropriate themes, character development goes by the boards. While nicely acted, the characters don’t have much behind the gaunt faces and sweeping dances, making them difficult to connect with. During one particularly intense scene between Portman and her mother, I found myself simply not caring about her borderline abusive situation. Not a knock against the actors involved, mind you, just a by product of a focus on the connecting the story points in lieu of strong character development.
Despite some weak characters, Aronofsky has hit another home run with Black Swan. Intensely gripping, especially as it speeds towards a breath taking conclusion, the film is visual storytelling at its finest. In fact, the movie’s final half hour is some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen all year. While I doubt it’s going to make a splash at the Oscars, I could definitely see a few Golden Globes coming down the pike for Portman and company.
You know, writing this review made me think about something. Maybe my film professor from eight years ago taught at NYU at some point. And what if, in his class, there was a plucky young filmmaker with dreams of making that “one great flim”. And perhaps my old teacher said the same line about the classics remaining classics even when the sound is muted. If so, my professor should be proud. Aronofsky was a great student of the art form and made himself a film for the ages.
Score – 90%