Film fans are abuzz over Black Swan, which opens this weekend.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film stars Natalie Portman as a troubled, ambitious ballerina who exposes her demons while training for the lead in Swan Lake. Most critics praised Portman’s performance, but some said the shock factor was a little too much. Here’s what they had to say.
Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” is a full-bore melodrama, told with passionate intensity, gloriously and darkly absurd. It centers on a performance by Natalie Portman that is nothing short of heroic, and mirrors the conflict of good and evil in Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake.”
Black Swan is, among other things, a document of Portman’s obsessive dedication to give a performance beyond what is expected of her — and, no less, Aronofsky’s need to wring every raw feeling from his leading lady. That relationship is up on screen too: of a man trying to get a brilliant performance out of a young woman by dominating and manipulating her.
Black Swan [...] surprises despite its lusty or rather sluttish predilection for clichés, which include the requisitely demanding impresario (Mr. Cassel makes a model cock of the walk) and Nina’s ballerina rival, Lily (Mila Kunis, as a succulent, borderline rancid peach). But, oh, what Mr. Aronofsky does with those clichés, which he embraces, exploits and, by a squeak, finally transcends.
Working with his frequent cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, and incorporating some dazzling visual effects, Aronofsky spins a nightmare scenario within a seemingly gentle, pristine world. The camera swoops and swoons, making us feel as off-kilter as the film’s tormented heroine. The visions and dreams soar seriously over-the-top at times, but always knowingly so, and with great style; “Black Swan” wallows in its grandiosity, and if you’re willing to go along with it, you’ll find yourself wowed by one of the best films of the year.
Off the dance floor, however, “Black Swan” is trashy and incoherent. Aronofsky, for all his gifts, is a gaudy maestro, opportunistic and insecure as an artist. [...] He’s such an extremist that he never creates a normal reality to take off from, so the outbreaks of violence don’t shock as much as they might. [...] Aronofsky has coaxed [Portman] into giving a dolorous performance that’s often on the verge of caricature. She suppresses tears, then trembles, cries, crumples—she’s always collapsing—and her neck chords stand out like ship’s rigging.