Darren Aronofsky's thriller 'Black Swan' opens in theaters Dec. 3, but it made its debut in September at the Venice Film Festival. Critics there shared early reviews of the story of a psychologically fragile ballerina; read on for some of the highlights and dissenting opinions
Kirk Honeycutt at THR wasn't entirely impressed with Aronofsky's latest vision: "Trying to coax a horror-thriller out of the world of ballet doesn't begin to work for Darren Aronofsky." Honeycutt doesn't dislike the film -- in fact, he thinks it's so bad it's good: "An instant guilty pleasure, a gorgeously shot, visually complex film whose badness is what's so good about it. You might howl at the sheer audacity of mixing mental illness with the body-fatiguing, mind-numbing rigors of ballet, but its lurid imagery and a hellcat competition between two rival dancers is pretty irresistible. Certain to divide audiences, "Swan" won't lack for controversy."
He does like the performances of the leading ladies, saying Portman does well in the dance numbers and "in her acting, too, you sense she has bravely ventured out of her comfort zone to play a character slowly losing sight of herself. It's a bravura performance." Meanwhile, "Kunis makes a perfect alternate to Portman, equally as lithe and dark but a smirk of self-assurance in place of Portman's wide-eyed fearfulness." The critic feels the black/white dynamic almost works, but the "horror-movie nonsense drags everything down the rabbit hole of preposterousness."
Peter Debruge at Variety was much more pleased with the film, citing it as "a wicked, sexy and ultimately devastating study of a young dancer's all-consuming ambition" and praising the costume design and exaggerated stylistic choices. He compares the film to the work of other filmmakers, stating "Aronofsky seems to be operating more in the vein of early Roman Polanski or David Cronenberg at his most operatic." He's more impressed by the horror film aesthetics than Honeycutt, pointing out that the sound design, score, and visual elements combine perfectly and "the result is an unsettling yet ultimately intuitive blend of classical and contempo techniques."
Mike Goodridge at ScreenDaily chimes in with a rave review: "Darren Aronofsky soars to new heights with Black Swan, an enthralling drama set in the competitive world of ballet. Alternately disturbing and exhilarating, this dark study of a mentally fragile performer derailed by her obsession with perfection is one of the most exciting films to come out of the Hollywood system this year." He goes on to add that the film is "a bold display of cinematic fireworks that will leave audiences breathless." He makes the Polanski comparison as well, mentioning that Black Swan captures "the psychological disturbia of Repulsion or Rosemary's Baby." Like Honeycutt, he's also impressed with Portman's portrayal, calling the actress "captivating" and adding that "she captures the confusion of a repressed young woman thrown into a world of danger and temptation with frightening veracity."
So, there you have it. Three early reviews -- two gushing with effusive praise for Aronofsky and the cast, another that finds it so bad it's good and calls to mind 'Showgirls.' Three reviews doesn't make any kind of consensus on a film, but how do you feel after reading some of these comments? Still excited for 'Black Swan' or has this tempered your enthusiasm a bit?
More 'Black Swan' Reviews (updated 12/2/10):
"A movie about a ballerina's agonizing quest for perfection might seem a little hollow if it were effortlessly cranked out on the Hollywood assembly line; 'Black Swan,' on the other hand, has the marks of a passion project ... [It's] a wholly engrossing, almost unbearably tense drama about a fairly mundane thing: backstage anxiety in the performing arts." Full Review - Eric D. Snider, Cinematical
"It centers on a performance by Natalie Portman that is nothing short of heroic, and mirrors the conflict of good and evil in Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake." It is one thing to lose yourself in your art. Portman's ballerina loses her mind." Full Review - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
"Wild and woolly, the movie is a breathtaking head trip that hails from a long tradition of backstage melodramas: '42nd Street,' 'A Star Is Born,' 'All About Eve,' and, yes, that kitschy '90s relic, 'Showgirls.'" Full Review - Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
"A movie that speaks directly to the way artists torture themselves and the way great art frequently comes at a high personal price.." Full Review - Drew McWeeny, HitFix.com
"This is, no doubt about it, a tour de force, a work that fully lives up to its director's ambitions." Full Review - David Edelstein, New York Magazine
"Darren Aronofsky's backstage ballet thriller Black Swan is lurid and voluptuous pulp fun, with a sensationalistic fairy-tale allure. You can't take it too seriously, but you can't tear your eyes away from it, either." Full Review - Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
"'Black Swan' is a pompous, self-glorifying, and generally unpleasant interpretation of an artist's task. The movie has the Romantics' fascination with death without their spiritual eloquence, which turns morbidity into art." Full Review - David Denby, The New Yorker
"'Black Swan' is a horror movie. A great one, really..." Full Review - Scott Weinberg, FEARnet.com
"Despite (or perhaps thanks to) his shock cuts, zap hallucinations, off-kilter framing, moody chiaroscuro, and repetitive creepiness, Black Swan is something like a 100-minute swoon. The camera lurches, leaps, and pirouettes; in some scenes, it feels as if it's being tossed around the stage along with Portman. Kitsch this bombastic becomes something primal." Full Review - J. Hoberman, Village Voice