20/20 Filmsight film review: ‘Black Swan’

A review of the film, ‘Black Swan’, for my own film site, 20/20 Filmsight. Excerpt below.

Black Swan is like a conjurer’s trick. It dances in front of you, it moves and shakes, offers distractions and throws up red herrings. And it’s so effective that when all is said and done you’re not really sure what happened. All you know is that, at some point, you’ve been deceived.

Not that Black Swan keeps an entirely straight face throughout its running time. It’s built upon caricature and cliché, and almost burns out audience goodwill with a clutch of risible scenes. But this is an easy film to forgive given some of the craft on display – it’s just a case of whether or not it should be forgiven.

At the centre of the threadbare plot is Natalie Portman’s Nina. An emotionally frigid member of a New York dance company’s corps de ballet, Nina’s opportunity comes when artistic director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) looks to reinvigorate the business by letting go his aging lead, Beth (Joan Cusack Winona Ryder), and staging a cutting edge production of Swan Lake. After a series of auditions, Nina gets the part.

And so rolls the film’s major plot hole: why would Thomas – desperate to save his ailing company – pick Nina, a dancer who he chastises for not being capable of embracing the duality of the central role? Still, this like everything else is quickly folded into the film’s shape shifting shadow, the audience barely getting a chance to raise a hand and ask the question.

The whole thing rushes along thus, as if the filmmakers were so convinced of the quality of their work that they didn’t think about whether it would hold together under close examination. Nina’s delicate personality is of course put under increasing strain by the lead role, and as the first night approaches she’s in danger of unravelling entirely.

The film’s claustrophobic dedication to its lead character allows director Darren Aronofsky to have a lot of fun with her deteriorating mental state. There are plenty of fantastic freak-out moments, even if some of the more audacious stunts elicit a laugh rather than a yelp.

For the full article, visit 20/20 Filmsight.

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