Review: Black Swan

(MA15+) *****

Director: Darren Aronofsky.

Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey.

ARONOFSKY'S obsession with obsession continues in this high art drama that turns ballet into a dangerous mind game.

Having shown characters driven by or addicted to numbers (Pi), drugs/TV (Requiem For A Dream), wrestling/glory/pain (The Wrestler), here Aronofsky explores the quest for perfection in what is a near-perfect film.

Portman is Nina, a New York ballerina who lands the coveted lead role in a production of Swan Lake.

But to master the role, Nina must perform as both the rigid and timid White Swan and the unbridled and passionate evil twin, the Black Swan.

Soon everyone and everything is pushing her towards achieving the ideal: herself, her vicarious-living mother, her manipulative coach, a real or imagined rivalry, a sense of guilt at replacing the previous principal dancer (a wonderful cameo from Winona Ryder).

The punishment and sacrifice in search of artistic perfection is just one of the many themes that burst out of Black Swan, making it such a rich and contemplative experience. Duality and the dark side, and reality and illusion come into play as Nina's quest for the apex of her art sends her spiralling towards the edges of sanity.

All of these luscious ideas, although rendered sumptuously on the screen, would come to nought if not for Portman, who inhabits the role with gusto, making Nina a superb balance of mothered restraint, desperation, repression and wide-eyed girlyness, all masking a caged animal keen to break free.

That animal nature is brought to life through some truly disturbing sequences and an increasingly beastial sound design, and as Black Swan progresses, you'll find yourself drawn into Nina's mindset, unable to distinguish fact from fiction as the film's twisted approach careers towards its stunning conclusion.

Thought-provoking and intriguing, Black Swan is a wonderfully layered and adroitly constructed thriller driven by Portman's best performance to date.

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