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Black Swan

a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Decisions, decisions. It's enough to drive an artistic director to drink... or, maybe, one of his ballerinas to the brink. That's the stew Thomas (Vincent Cassel) is steeped in making sure he gets it right choosing the best ballerina to dance the lead in his fresh, New York City production of "Swan Lake."

Since he's forced into retirement his long time "Little Princess" of a ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder), the choice gets down to, either, Nina (Natalie Portman) or Lily (Mila Kunis). Both younger ladies are more lithe and svelte than Beth, and ever so much more eager to dance the demanding role of Odette. The one chosen, thus, will ascend to that coveted pinnacle of the dance world from which Beth has just been dethroned---by Thomas, pronounced, toh-MAH, btw.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

Director Darren Aronofsky serves up a gulp-filled glimpse behind the high-brow scene of the performing arts with "Black Swan," using a Mark Heyman/Andres Heinz screenplay that wings itself in and out of the "Swan Lake" story... and ballet to which symphonist Pyotr Ilyich Tchiakovsky set some of his most powerful and memorable music.

The chaste-like Nina gets Thomas's nod for the role of Odette, but he's not satisfied with Nina's feel for doing the sensual black swan part (required by the ballet) in counterpoint to also performing the white swan's dancing. The worldly Lily brings to the competition the black swan's sensuality Thomas really wants for the mounting of his terpsichore while the film dangles a chilling doppelgänger into a pairing of the competitive Nina and Lily that's reminiscent of scripting strategies Ron Howard used in "A Beautiful Mind."

As Thomas selects Nina, he tells her she must "lose herself" dancing the black swan... that, although her technique is nigh to perfection... "perfection is also letting go." She must shed her innocence for any onstage black swan moments. It's difficult for Nina, so Thomas has a suggestion for her.

The black and white swans connect with two of "Swan Lake's" female characters, Odette and Odile, the latter a young woman of mistaken identity whom the ballet's Prince Siegfried tragically chooses as his bride-to-be instead of Odette, his beloved. Yes, again: a man having to choose between two women, but making the "wrong" choice. Or, is he?

The film is Odette's or Nina's story, though: her atypical relationship with her former dancer/stage mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey)... her obsession for perfection and "losing herself," as Thomas demands ... her paranoia that Lily plots to replace her as Odette... and how much all of this, finally, comes to cost Nina.

Mila Kunis

Mila Kunis

"Black Swan" has sequences that come close to shocking... and, in some instances, might cause an unsuspecting moviegoer to wince. A pair of decades-old movies came to mind as I watched "Swan": "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist," which, for the latter, I hasten to add was much more stressful to watch than this new, strictly psychological and sometimes steamily erotic thriller from Aronofsky. "Black Swan" is rated "R," for language, sexuality and drug use.

Natalie Portman is sure to be among those buzzed about in this year's Oscar clamor for Best Actress. She does the role so well! And, it would be a surprise if Ms. Kunis didn't wind up garnering a kudo or two for her smaller, but all important role. Mila doesn't appear, here, to have been the same girl who did the sassy Jackie in a successful TV series called, "That 70s Show."

Vincent Cassel is also near perfect in "Black Swan" as the George Blanchinesque Thomas. He was seen as another intense character in "Eastern Promises" with Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. And it's great to see Barbara Hershey again. She's just right as the severe, yet doting, demanding mother expecting great things from her daughter for whom she gave up dancing when she became pregnant.

Along with contemporary music, Tchiakovsky's legendary Romantic score is used to great, but restrained advantage in "Black Swan." Moreover, Aronofsky mingles well the classical feel of art with that which is more here-and-now, as well as streetwise---allowing the film to hit the box office with a much broader appeal.

"Black Swan" official site.

Opens in larger markets on Dec. 3.

See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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