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Black Swan
2010, Darren Aronofsky

Red Shoes for the new millennium, by way of Persona and Jacob's Ladder. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career thus far (physically and emotionally), and is definitely the odds-on favorite to pick up most every major award next year, including the Oscar. The visuals and audacious style crafted by Darren Aronofsky coupled with Portman make Black Swan a must see. But having said all that, for me it was a bit too hollow beyond it's style and central performance.

Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a dedicated member of a New York ballet company. The longtime star, played by Winona Ryder, is being forced out because of her age, leaving the lead in the upcoming production of "Swan Lake" up for grabs. Nina is meticulously dedicated to her craft, but has never been given the biggest parts by the director (Vincent Cassel). All the young hopefuls audition, including a confident newcomer named Lily (Mila Kunis). Even though she's sure she's blown the audition, Nina is given the lead of the Swan Queen, a role, for those unfamiliar with Tchaikovsky, that has two sides to it: a white virginal character and her dark double. Nina dances the "white" swan effortlessly and flawlessly, but the director worries that she cannot find the dark, seductive power of the "black" swan.

Striving for professional perfection, her offstage life, such as it is, mostly involves obsessive practicing. Though in her mid twenties, she still lives at home with her mother (Barbara Hershey), who was a dancer herself before becoming pregnant. As the premiere of "Swan Lake" gets closer and closer, Nina's grip on sanity becomes more and more elusive, culminating opening night.

The style and tone (and Portman) really carry the day, but the secondary characters of the demanding ballet director, smothering mother, and various catty rivals are purposefully kept as archetypes instead of real people among the other myriad of well-worn clichés of this kind of show business tale. Mila Kunis is the only one allowed to exhibit any manner of humanity in Nina's dark artistic journey. Natalie Portman is so good and Aronofsky so bold that it almost doesn't matter, and yes I understand that the story is told from the one character's perspective, but for me that lack of humanity balanced against the surreal madness makes too much of the film one note...as stunning as that single note can be. The finale, the opening night performance, is where the dual tours de force of filmmaking and performance crescendo beautifully.

That the script couldn't find a way to set the dazzling elements against something other than clichés is a flaw, far from the obsessive perfection the main character longs for, but the flourishes that abound are surely worth the price of admission.