Tuesday 10 May 2011

Today's Review: Black Swan

I don't like it when a movie gets too hyped up. It builds up your expectations, and if you leave it too long it builds them up so much that no matter how good the movie is it will disappoint you. For instance, I didn't watch Shrek for absolutely ages, and only gave in to people telling me how great it was. I didn't really like it. But that could be 'cause I'm a Pixar fanboy. Quite a few movies have been hyped up recently, but I've managed to still enjoy them as I caught them at the cinema. The Dark Knight, Inception and The King's Speech blew me away. Black Swan, however, I didn't quite catch in time.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballet dancer who is under a bit of pressure. She's going for the main role in a production of Swan Lake, and she feels that everyone is against her. Also she's batshit crazy. From what I'd heard about the movie I was expecting a lot more push coming from the ballet director and Nina's rival, Lily (Mila Kunis). I was expecting a lot more of the relationships between the people to develop, and the resulting effect on Nina's psyche to be exposed in the final act. This movie did not turn out to be what I expected.

That's another thing that sometimes can destroy my enjoyment of something. If I think it's going to go one way and it goes another, I get disappointed. But I shouldn't be expecting anything. Normally I like to know as little about a movie as possible before I go to see it, so I can appreciate it for what it is. And although I had firm beliefs about what Black Swan was going to do, I can appreciate what it's actually all about.

The performances were great, and while I thought that there would be a constant struggle between Lily and Nina that actually wasn't there, it lets Portman mostly steal the show, and I can see how she received the awards she got for her role. This focus also makes for some great scenes where Ninas is really struggling against herself for a grip on reality. The hallucination scenes are never too over the top, and they let the tension build up quite effectively to the movie's climax. They also involve a lot of mutilation involving fingernails. I have seen some depraved movies in my time, with all sorts of gruesome and gory acts, and never batted an eyelid, but Black Swan's constant fingernail play was making me cringe constantly. I'm not a fan of fingernail injuries.

But despite the fact that the actual hallucination scenes play out well, there's a bit too much emphasis on the build up to them. It was clear soon after Black Swan started that mirrors were playing a big part in this mental struggle, and I thought that was kind of cool. Then in every single scene I would see a mirror, and it started to annoy me. Yes, I know, mirror, distorted images, fighting your own reflection/psyche/whatever, blah blah blah. But as the story progressed and the importance of the mirror became more apparent, I accepted that although they probably spent half the budget on mirrors, it might have been worth it.

Black Swan is a solid movie. The performances are acted wonderfully, and Portman and Kunis' months of ballet training really pay off in the dance scenes. The hallucination scenes in particular are very well done, and it's interesting how much of the time you find yourself questioning what is real and what's just inside Nina's head. All in all this serves to pull you into the story, the uncertainty about what is real lets you empathise with Nina, and makes her confusion and stress feel more real. Because you might not ever go insane, but you've got a fair idea what it's like because that girl in that movie kept looking in mirrors and seeing weird stuff. Psychology.

My rating: 4/5

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