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Portman's Performance Overrated?

Swan succeeds with strong suspense, falters with acting

I had wanted to see Black Swan for months before I actually got around to it.  After its five Oscar nominations, including a nod (and win) for Natalie Portman’s performance and for best picture of the year, I knew I had to make time. 

I’d read such fabulous, raving things about Portman in Black Swan, I was sure this would be an excellent film.  And, it is a great film about the rigors and demands of professional ballerinas. 

But, as for Portman…well, I think the hype on her performance is overrated.  She’s good.  She’s just not great. 

In great character portrayals, I always look for some type of arc.  Something that is at the end of the movie that is not at the beginning.  Sure, a lot of this has to do with story.  But, a great performance will only enhance that arc and really bring it to the surface. 

Portman, who I’ve always liked as an actress, brings no additional arc to her character Nina.  Nina is a psychological and somewhat physical mess at the beginning of the film and she is a mess at the end…only a bigger mess. 

I would have preferred something transforming in this character…like a confident star withered down to a nervous wreck by the end.  Or even a mildly unsettled woman turning into completely unsettled. 

In the beginning of this film, Portman is already on edge all the time.  She’s nervous at ballet practice with her VERY controlling and demanding boss, nervous at home with her VERY controlling and demanding mother.  She’s nervous when she thinks she has lost the prime, main role of the Swan in the ballet’s production of Swan Lake.  She’s nervous when she ends up getting the role. 

She has a history of self-harming that there is mention to in the beginning and which appears to get worse throughout the movie.  Or does it?  Knowing the director’s (Darren Aronofsky) penchant for making films with a high level of artistic license or, to put it less politically correct, bizarreness, I should not have taken anything in this film at face value. 

After watching another one of Aronofsky’s films, The Fountain, (I could not endure his Requiem for a Dream), I felt like I had had some form of emotional lobotomy. 

But, since 2008’s The Wrestler, Aronofsky is making slightly more mainstream films, but that does not mean he’s not inclined to add some additional bizarre touches.  Black Swan’s bizarre touch is that you truly do not know what is real and what is not real.  Portman’s character is found with scratches on her back, possibly meaning her self-harming fetish is back at work.  But, as the film progresses, these scratches look less like fingernail wounds and more like something more supernatural.  So, does she even have these scratches at all? 

Over-all, the film works as a well-written intense psychological thriller that keeps the audience on edge from start to finish.  Just like the “edgy” main character! 

Black Swan: 2010, rated R, 108 minutes, directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Winona Ryder.  The Niles Public Library owns copies of this DVD. 

goshdarnimstupid May 21, 2011 at 01:59 PM
"I would have preferred something transforming in this character…" gosh I must have seen the wrong movie, I thought it was called "Black Swan", but the one I saw was completely about character transformation, which was pulled off superbly.
Paul Parker May 21, 2011 at 03:42 PM
I agree with the author, Ms. Cygnar-- I also thought Ms. Portman's performance in the "Black Swan" was good, but not great. I also generally like Natalie Portman as an actress. In my opinion her best performance was her initial appearance as Queen Amidala in one of the "Star Wars" films, a likeable and confident character.
Emma May 21, 2011 at 03:59 PM
The whole point of the movie is that Natalie's character goes from a little girl to a woman. There was a huge character arc which makes more sense than "a confident star withered down to a nervous wreck by the end". It is SUPPOSED to loosely mirror the story of Swan Lake. The White Swan is NOT confident, only the Black Swan is. Nina is in pursuit of perfection. I thought that Natalie Portman's performance was absolutely phenomenal. One of the best that I have ever seen (and I'm a serious cinephile who loves character studies...therefore the acting is extremely important to me). And she 200% deserved that Oscar.
goshdarnimstupid May 21, 2011 at 10:49 PM
Kudos Emma, you do write well.
viveca green May 22, 2011 at 02:46 AM
i was extremely disappointed in this film. at 30 minutes into the film i began to look at the clock and wonder when was the plot,acting level and remarkable piece of " work " i had read so much about, going to kick in . at 45 minutes and following the dialogue and scene intently...i began to have that dreaded thought "uh oh, I have just wasted over an hour of my time ...it really is not going to get any better !" i realized that at best , the script was average, it did not venture out into "daring " , "innovative" or even suprising... though, any one of which would have made it at least, entertaining. i like ms. portman as an actress,but this was not one of her better efforts,in large part due to the superficial directing and boringly cliche script. it could have been used as a informational psa for self mutilation ...yes, it was that overrated.
Stella May 22, 2011 at 07:17 AM
How could Portman portray something that wasn't in the script? In seems like the author's complaint should be with the screenplay, not the actress.
Cecilia Cygnar May 25, 2011 at 07:42 PM
I'm happy that so many people feel so passionate about movies. And I'm glad this has got a good discussion going. Just keep in mind, as Alfred Hitchcock was known for saying… "It’s only a movie…"!!!!!!

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