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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)



By Harry Forbes

The buzz you’ve been hearing about Natalie Portman is true. As a ballerina slowly unraveling as she rehearses for her first starring role in “Swan Lake” at New York’s Lincoln Center, she gives a compelling, multi-faceted performance.

But the framework around her -- a luridly melodramatic story involving an overbearing, ex-ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey), a sexually predatory choreographer (Vincent Cassel), an embittered fading star (Winona Ryder), and a sluttish rival (Mila Kunis) – is predictably clichéd.

The film derives its title from the ballet’s dual central part – the good Odette and the evil Odille – the latter presenting Portman’s character with its greatest challenge. She can handle the good character with aplomb, but worries about the sensuality and duplicity of the latter eluding her, particularly with Cassel’s character feeding her insecurity on that score.

Mind you, the ballet setting is intriguing and not a little exotic, but there’s none of the artful visual composition or detailed plotting and ballet world atmosphere of Powell and Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes,” a film to which some have wrongly made flattering comparisons. This is not to say that the direction of Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”) is lacking in flair, but it strikes me as flash with little substance.

“Black Swan” is rarely tedious and there are some twists, but the payoff is less than satisfying, and even then, not adequately explained in the script credited to Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin.

There’s a curiously trashy ambiance throughout, including a gratuitously graphic lesbian encounter between Portman and Kunis.

Still, Portman holds your interest and earns your sympathy, and even allowing for some cinematic doubling, convincingly executes her dance movements.

(The film has been rating R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use.) Print this post

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