In "Black Swan," Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream," "The Wrestler") directs doppelgangers Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in a dark, twisted psychological thriller about Nina, a ballerina (Portman) unraveling as she prepares to dance both the pristine, pure white swan and the manipulative, seductive black swan roles in Swan Lake.
Already esteemed and flooded with early accolades—it caused quite a stir at its Venice Film Festival premiere, and not just because of an overly-hyped Sapphic throwdown between Portman and Kunis (grow up, people)—"Black Swan" is a smart, highbrow, beautifully shot horror film that could go down in the annals alongside other outstanding movies in the genre, like "Rosemary's Baby."
With the exception his 2006 film, "The Fountain," Aronofsky has been a critic's darling since his 1998 debut, "Pi." But every so often, we can’t help but wonder if the praise is deserved or merely a case of group think: "Well, they're telling me it's amazing, so it must be amazing. Four stars!"
We'll freely admit that we weren't blown away by "The Wrestler." Yes, Mickey Rourke was phenomenal, but the film's narrative felt overindulgent and meandering. Seriously, how many times do we need to listen to the sound of labored breathing as the camera tracks the back of Rourke's greasy head?
The same is true of "Black Swan."
While Aronofsky gleans tremendous performances from his actors, the story suffers from redundancy. More than once, we found ourselves wondering, "If this girl could just have an orgasm and a slice of cake, would all of this be happening?"
Still, the film, which has elements of "The Red Shoes" and "Repulsion," is a visually stunning canvas of jagged black and white imagery and masterful performances. Portman is thrilling in her repressed containment, the perfect foil to Kunis’ vibrant, dazzling, seductive livewire, while Vincent Cassel crackles as the ballet’s sadistic artistic director.
If only the story weren't stuck spinning in circles, Aronofsky would have been truly on point(e).