Black Swan takes scary flight towards insanity

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

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THE Red Shoes meets Polanski’s Repulsion in Black Swan (Cert 15) as ballerina Natalie Portman rapidly loses her mind under the pressure of striving for her dancing dream.

Not that Darren Aronofsky’s film has much of a grip on reality either but is a gloriously over the-top backstage melodrama cum horror movie which also manages to be a study of the pain and sacrifices that people are prepared to make in pursuit of their chosen craft, much as we saw in his last film, The Wrestler.

Javier Bardem as Uxbal  in Biutiful

Javier Bardem as Uxbal in Biutiful

Natalie Portman is Nina, a young ballerina in New York who appears to have no life beyond dance, living in a claustrophobic apartment with her controlling ex-ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey).

Her big break comes when arrogant artistic director Vincent Cassel announces he wants a new prima ballerina for his production of Swan Lake and picks out Nina from the corps. But while she has the innocence and grace to play the White Swan he bullies her with demands she find a sense of a hidden sensuality and aggression to inhabit the Black Swan.

At the same time he appears to take a shine to a new arrival in the company, Lily (Mina Kulis), whose deviousness and taste for the wild life is the personification of the Black Swan.

A twisted friendship develops between the two as Lily encourages a darker side in Nina, although how much of what we see ensue are the fantasies of a girl descending into madness is anyone’s guess.

Robeert Duvall  in Get Low

Robeert Duvall in Get Low

Portman is a revelation, not just in being convincing as a dancer, but in her gradual evolution from repressed virginal mummy’s girl into scary horror queen.

Media folk like nothing more than movies about the media so not everyone may share our enthusiasm for Morning Glory (Cert 12A), a comedy set in the newsroom of the lowest-rated TV breakfast show in New York.

Directed by Brit Roger Michell (Notting Hill, etc), it’s sharply scripted by The Devil Wears Prada’s Aline Brosh McKenna with the humour deriving from well-drawn characters perfectly cast.

On the rebound from redundancy on a New Jersey station, perky producer Becky (Rachel McAdams) persuades sardonic network boss Jeff Goldblum to let her fill the vacancy to helm the ailing Daybreak show.

Undated Film Still Handout from Morning Glory. Pictured: Harrison Ford as Mike Pomeroy, Diane Keaton as Colleen Peck, Rachel McAdams as Becky Fuller. See PA Feature FILM Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Paramount Pictures UK. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Reviews.

Undated Film Still Handout from Morning Glory. Pictured: Harrison Ford as Mike Pomeroy, Diane Keaton as Colleen Peck, Rachel McAdams as Becky Fuller. See PA Feature FILM Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Paramount Pictures UK. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Reviews.

She has to contend with the clashing egos of the anchors – fluffy sofa queen Diane Keaton and a glowering Harrison Ford, grizzled Pulitzer-winning veteran unwillingly recruited to the show to fulfil a contract requirement. Their sparring is a joy to behold.

As the workaholic Becky begins to improve the ratings by resolutely dumbing down the content of Daybreak, it raises the news versus entertainment debate – but it’s one that has been going on for years, the young producer tells the heavyweight newsman, “and your side lost!”

It would be nice to report that great journalistic values win out in the end – but this is a film with an entertainment rather than a news agenda.

Scottish actor Peter Mullan’s third feature as writer and director following Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters, NEDS (Cert 15), is another angry film which wears its heart on its sleeve.

Connor McCarron in NEDS

Connor McCarron in NEDS

The title stands for non-educated delinquents and tells how a bright young schoolboy in Glasgow in the 1970s is ground down by the expectations of his community, the gang warfare all around him, an abusive alcoholic father and class prejudice.

In a largely unprofessional cast, Conor McCarron is impressive as teenager John McGill who has every spark beaten out of him.

Mullan bravely refuses to allow a neat uplifting conclusion to the story but his attempts to leaven the grim story result in some odd changes in tone, such as a bloody gang fight scene accompanied by jaunty rendition of Cheek to Cheek and a strange religious fantasy sequence.

In Get Low (Cert 12A) Robert Duvall is a man who has lived as a hermit for 30 years in the Tennessee woods and one day walks into the nearest town and requests his own funeral while he is still alive.

It is partly to allay the rumours that have grown up around him – and to confess to a secret he has been harbouring all these years.

Bill Murray is the funeral director who grants him his wish, with Lucas Black as his assistant and Sissy Spacek as an old flame of Felix’s.

From first-time director Aaron Schneider, it’s a gentle film, a fable built around a real story from the 1930s, which keeps you guessing all the way through.

Duvall brings dignity and integrity to the old man and a restrained Murray allows him the space to do so.