By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer
Any film fan worth their salt can usually predict who’s going to be nominated for the major award shows. This year is no different, and although it usually leads to some epic battles, one thing most people can agree on is that when the nominees are announced later this month, the best actress category will probably sound a little like this: “And the nominees are…Natalie Portman, Natalie Portman, Natalie Portman, Natalie Portman and Natalie Portman.”
Portman has long been one of those actresses everyone loves. She’s extraordinarily talented and seems like a genuinely sweet person. That weetness is thrown out the window in “Black Swan.”
In the film, directed by Darren Aronofsky, Portman plays Nina Sayers, a gifted but frigid ballerina with a New York company run by Thomas Leory (played by French actor Vincent Cassel.) Despite his misgivings, Thomas casts her as the Swan Queen in his re-imagining of the classic “Swan Lake.” It isn’t long before Nina starts showing signs of stress and mental instability. Her biggest probem is that she can’t seem to perform the role of Black Swan.
Nina is quiet, shy and unable to tap into the seductive role of the Black Swan, unlike her new co-star, Lily (Mila Kunis.) To top it all off, her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) alternates between creepy, overbearing and jealous (she had to give up her own ballet career when she became pregnant with Nina.)
As the story progresses, Nina slowly comes to lose herself in her obsession. Her main goal is to be perfect and she appears to be willing to do anything to make sure that happens. But no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t seem to grasp the Black Swan role.
“He always said you were such a frigid little girl,” Beth, (Winona Ryder) the company’s now washed-up ballerina, tells Nina when talking to her about Thomas. Ryder’s role has been played up, and she only appears in the film a handful of times. But her final appearance in the film is by far one of the most disturbing things in a film in recent memory. All I’ll say is it involves a very sharp nail file and that during the screening twenty or so people in the audience let out shocked, horrified gasps.
That seemed to be the trend of the movie. The movie is being billed as a psychological thriller, and it definitely has its moments. By the end of the film, I had one hand balled into a fist and the other clasped to my chest. Everyone going into “Black Swan” knows that it’s going to be a trippy experience, but the part that I think will surprise most people is that on top of being nerve-wracking, it is also a genuinely beautiful film.
If you’re the type who gets squeamish at movies, “Black Swan” probably isn’t the movie for you. It is immensely disturbing. People have spent so much time talking about how disturbing the amputation scene in the Danny Boyle movie, “127 hours” is, but there are scenes in “Black Swan” that made my stomach turn. And I have a pretty strong stomach.
Darren Aronofsky had proven himself to be a one of the most gifted working directors around and if anyone had any doubts before, they’ll be gone once they see “Black Swan.” Aronofsky is the only director I can think of that can go from “The Wrestler” to “Black Swan.”
The movie is perfect, which may seem like a bold statement, but there is truly nothing wrong with it; from the music to the direction to the writing. But the real crowning jewel in this film is the all around brilliant performances.
Of course, Portman is the standout. That sweet girl we see in interviews and on TV is gone. From the first moment we see her on screen until her final shocking departure, she is just gone. Mila Kunis, who has been getting a lot of attention for her performance, certainly holds her own against Portman.
But I think special recognition should go to Cassel, who has kind of gotten lost in the Portman shuffle. Playing the sexually aggressive Thomas, he alternates between oozing charm and just the right amount of arrogant slime. When he’s on the screen, he almost steals the attention from everyone he’s in a scene with, including Portman.
It’s not hard to imagine that in 10 or 15 years when people are talking about those perennial classics of film, “Black Swan” will be right up there with the best of them.