Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied

Director: Darren Aronovsky

Writer: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

Original Score: Clint Mansell

Running Time: 108 Mins.

Darren Aronovsky has a unique style, some may even go as far as to say he has a vision, one that is distinct and could quite rightly mark him out as an auteur, being a director who has similar themes, visual stylings (or trappings?), a way of coaxing very harsh and “real” performances from his actors, Pi and Requiem for a Dream saw him positioned in indie territory but with The Wrestler he broke into the mainstream, albeit unintentionally, garnering awards talk for his directing and a win for his lead actor Mickey Rourke.

The Wrestler tackled an extreme sport, one that he exposed as unforgiving with an ultimately fragile man (emotionally) at its heart and with that there was little doubt Aronovsky could craft a realistic and touching turn from an actor. With Black Swan what it would appear he has attempted to do is marry both the character study of The Wrestler with the paranoia and visual intensity of his earlier films, for me all this simply does is create a messy and over-blown spectacle that reaches some kind of stride in the final 30 minutes, by which time my patience had been well and truly spent.

Portman is a fine actress, this we know from Leon through to Brothers (which should have been awards bait) but in Black Swan she is saddled with an oddly two-dimensional character, yes she has lost a lot of weight, and yes she looks stunning when performing ballet but beyond this the character of Nina Sayers is simply swept along by her supposed mental breakdown in a plot that sees her cast as the swan queen (both the white and black swans) in a production of Swan Lake. The white swan she has nailed, graceful, calm, perfect however her director Thomas (Cassel, playing the equally two-dimensional sleazy French-man, yet at least having some fun with it) pushes Nina over the edge as she is pushed to extreme both physically and mentally.

Like The Wrestler before it no holds are barred in the scenes of physical torture these people put themselves through for their art, except this time the gore does not seem to be for dramatic effect but for cheap jumps, like a high-brow Saw film! These moments though provide the only brief scenes of shock tactics in a slow and laborious first hour where very little happens, one can only imagine that the idea was to ramp up the tension for the final payoff, great in theory but when you are on a road to  very little the audience will get lost along the way through sheer lack of interest.

When the finale arrives the shock and gore is taken up a notch, Winona Ryder in the final of only a handful of brief scenes is afforded the embarrassment of pointlessly stabbing her face with a nail file while each scene serves to up the ante where we just know Nina is going to crack. The final scene itself comes as no surprise given the end of Swan Lake itself (retold for us in the opening throws), yet upon the end the main question i had on my lips is what exactly was Aronovsky trying to achieve in a film that seems to be nothing more than his folly, wavering between drama, character study, horror, erotic thriller and worst of all a big dramatic horror replete with the type of honking score Shutter Island and Inception utilised so well. Not pigeon-holing a film into genres is not bad thing, but there needs to be some coherence of intention to garner admiration, or at the very least, enjoyment!

VERDICT

Black Swan is visually arresting in parts, yet beyond this there is little to recommend in a rather messed up effort, quite how Portman has received acting plaudits remains a mystery…unless we are judging on ballet prowess, where she would undoubtedly win hands down.

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