Natalie Portman plays a ballet dancer competing for the role of a lifetime. Her obsession with perfection is at once the key to her potential triumph and her potential ruin. Barbara Hershey brilliantly plays what we first see as another smothering stage mother, but soon learn to be something even more disturbing. Vincent Cassell (Mesrine) captures the charisma of the swaggering dance master who pushes the ballerina mercilessly. Portman’s dancer has the fragility of a porcelain teacup, and, as she slathers herself with more and more stress, we wonder just when, not if, she’ll break. The tension crescendos, and the climactic performance of Swan Lake is thrilling.
Fresh from The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is another directing triumph. In fact, parts of Black Swan are as trippy as Aronofsky’s brilliant Requiem for a Dream. I expect Aronofsky, Portman and Hershey to be nominated for Oscars.