Andy Bockelman: ‘Black Swan’: A beautiful dance with dark movements |

Andy Bockelman: ‘Black Swan’: A beautiful dance with dark movements

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.
Courtesy Photo

'Black Swan'

4 out of 4 stars

108 minutes

Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey.

Pursuing a future in ballet involves endless sacrifices: time, physicality, sanity.

Well, maybe that last one isn’t something that every hoofer has to forgo, but then, the girl in “Black Swan” is a bit of an odd duck.

All the world’s a stage and life is merely one big dance performance.

Such is the perspective of young ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), though she has not yet gotten past the overture. But, all her years preparing for stardom in her New York ballet company look to be finally paying off.

With the retirement of his prima ballerina (Winona Ryder), the troupe’s director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), seeks to cast a fresh face as the lead in the production of “Swan Lake.”

Nina is ready to make the commitment to the rigors of dancing the character of the Swan Queen, a role which also entails dancing as the White Swan’s sultry evil twin, the Black Swan.

Though Thomas is reluctant to give the squeaky clean dancer the part, Nina is eager to prove her range, befriending the company’s newest dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), Thomas’s ideal choice for the Black Swan, hoping to learn something. But, the more Nina strives to capture the dual essence needed for her big break, the more her life spins out of control as she is overcome by jealousy, paranoia and perfectionism.

Throughout her career, Portman has always shown poise and grace years beyond her actual age, and here is no different as she commands the screen with a pointed and powerful presentation. It’s not easy to play a performer who’s struggling to reach some semblance of greatness when you yourself are already quite accomplished, but the actress has no problem making us believe that Nina can’t quite cut it at something to which she’s devoted her entire life.

Of course, given the pressures, it’s not hard to see why her mind begins to unravel whether it’s stress-induced scratching or hallucinations of herself as a more confident woman with a dark side.

Cassel comes on strong as her demanding, almost loathsome instructor, and Barbara Hershey provides no less tension as Nina’s strict, controlling mother, an ex-dancer who still treats her daughter like she’s a 10-year-old in need of complete coddling.

Kunis is electric as Lily, a free-wheeling bohemian whose approach to dance is the exact opposite of Nina’s, making up for a lack of structure and ambition with an irrepressible joie de vivre.

And, as if the possibility of being replaced by Lily weren’t enough, Nina also has to face the dreaded likelihood that if she continues on the same path, she’ll end up like her predecessor, with Ryder giving one of her best showings in years as bitter, bilious Beth, who, in her mid-30s, is considered much too old to dance professionally.

The intensity of any given dancer’s regimen would make for an interesting watch if done right, but “interesting” has never been good enough for director Darren Aronofsky. And, this time, his flair for showing gruesome details balances perfectly with his similar technique for visual artistry.

This isn’t as dreary as “Requiem for a Dream” or long-winded as “The Fountain,” and if 2008’s “The Wrestler” were any indication, Aronofsky has been building to something big, featuring tones of “All About Eve.” And, everything works in his finest — not to mention most erotic — film yet, from the inspired choreography to the hypnotic musical score to the alluring costumes, all of which are still only half the story as Nina leaps and pirouettes to an astounding finale.

While there are few missteps to be seen, the force of “Black Swan” comes from Portman’s powerhouse performance, which will surely go down as one of her most memorable. And, though she can complete a metaphorical pas de deux with any of her castmates at given time, it’s when she’s flying solo that she can really spread her wings.

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