Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina at a prestigious ballet company run by artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel). When the principle ballerina, Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), is fired, Nina sees this as her chance to make her mark. Obsessed with nailing the lead in the new company production of Swan Lake, Nina pushes her body to the limit. Although Nina has the technique needed to succeed in the lead role, Thomas feels that she is too innocent to truly capture the spirit of the Black Swan. Nina becomes increasingly paranoid when Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the company. Lily is a free spirit who has a naughty side that is perfect for the role of the Black Swan. With her mother (Barbara Herhsey), a former ballerina, pressuring her to succeed where she once failed; along with the threat of Lily taking her role, Nina must decide how far down the dark path she is willing to go.
If Black Swan was an album, it would be a greatest hits compilation as that is what the film feels like at times. Black Swan incorporates all the best moments of director Darren Aronofsky’s directorial career up to this point. The film showcases his great method of storytelling while still incorporating the visual flair of his earlier works. Aronofsky takes us down the rabbit hole of madness and show us the beauty that lies within it. It is clear that Aronofsky has truly figured out how to keep his story at the forefront without overindulging in the visuals. There are so many smartly placed visual cues that Aronofsky is practically daring the audience to revisit his dark world after the film is over.
It is not easy to make a film primarily set in the confines of a ballet thrilling from start to finish but this is exactly what Aronofsky does. A lot of the film’s success is due to the wonderful work done by the ensemble cast. Natalie Portman really gives herself to the role both mentally and physically. When displaying Nina’s increasingly unstable mindset, Portman never loses that naiveté which Nina has at the beginning of the film. It is this reluctance of letting go of her innocence that not only makes Nina such a fascinating character, but also makes her final transformation even more stunning.
While Portman is getting a lot of Best Actress Oscar buzz for the role, the performances that stood out the most were the work by the supporting cast. Mila Kunis is quickly becoming an actress who is surpassing all of my expectation. She is fabulous as Lily and allows the film to send the audience on a few red herrings. Although Vincent Cassel continues his string of great performances, Black Swan might finally be the film that makes him a household name to mainstream audiences in North America. He is brilliant as the lecherous Thomas and his scenes with Winona Ryder are simply wonderful. Speaking of Winona Ryder, it is great to see her getting prominent work in movies again. Both Ryder and Hershey are exceptionally good in this film. Hopefully Black Swan will re-launch both careers to the point where they each get more meaty roles in films.
Black Swan is a film that should, and most likely will, be a prominent fixture when the Academy Award nominations come out in a few weeks. It is intelligent and visually thrilling without ever conforming to common convention. The performance and the direction makes this film a must-see for even the causal film watcher.