Black Swan: 8 (out of 10)
It's hard to call any Darren Aronofsky movie entertaining. Don't get me wrong, his works are beautiful and challenging and well worth watching, but at heart the movies need to be endured rather than enjoyed. Black Swan continues this trend.
Black Swan tells the story of Nina, an established ballerina that is looking for her big break, and slowly figures out what she will have to sacrifice to get it. It turns out to be an intriguing combination of Aronofsky's previous work - the mental illness of Pi, added to the dangers-of-physical-performance message of The Wrestler, and mixed with just a touch of "drugs-destroy-your-soul" (and "hey, lesbians!") from Requiem For A Dream.
The highlight of the movie is, perhaps not surprisingly, the acting. Sure, we've known for a years now that Natalie Portman can act, but it's still a bit of a shock to see a multiple-Golden-Raspberry-nominated actress (Attack of the Clones) do such an excellent job with a difficult role. Portman excels with her combination of "vulnerable", "ambitious", and "talented", and does it while doing a remarkable job dancing ballet. She may not have needed the comeback in the same way that Mickey Rourke did in The Wrestler, but she matches that performance anyway.
Another intriguing element of the movie is the casting itself. Nina is an established ballerina, just entering her prime but not yet truly successful; her two most important compatriots are the older, soon-to-retire colleague Beth (Winona Ryder), and the brand-new ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis). This mix makes adds another dimension to the relationships, with their relative ages and positions mirroring the relative positions of the actresses themselves.
But given that this is an Aronofsky film, the highlight of the film has to be the direction. The standard flourishes are still there - the roundabout camera work, the behind-the-star's-head journeys through the varied sets, and the trippy cuts that make the viewer subtly question what's being seen without outright saying "this is a hallucination". The special effects are subtle, the sets full of mirrors and other tools for movie metaphors, and the viewer has to constantly question what he's seeing. He's good at his job; it'll be interesting to see what he comes up with when he gets co-opted by mainstream Hollywood over the next years.
All in all, it's an excellent movie, and well worth the praise it's getting in the press. It's dark, disturbing, bloody, and sexy. I'm happy I saw it, and I'm curious to see how many awards it gets nominated for.