Good visuals, slack plots

Submitted by Matthew on 26 January, 2011 - 2:04

Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin, has received widespread plaudits and is expected to pick up a few Baftas and, later, Oscars.

Natalie Portman won the Golden Globe for best actress. She stars as Nina, a troubled ballerina rehearsing for the role of her life, as both swans in Swan Lake. Nobody doubts her ability to dance, but many — including her choreographer, played by Vincent Cassel — question whether she has the inner darkness to convincingly dance the evil black swan.

Driven by her failed-dancer mother, in a great performance by a sadly almost-unrecognisable (thanks to “work”) Barbera Hershey, Nina is on the edge of sanity. She’s obsessed with her predecessor (Winona Ryder), who’s been injured in an accident, and terrified of her rival (Mila Kunis), who has no shortage of inner darkness.

There’s no doubt Portman gives an excellent performance. Real ballerinas, apparently, don’t find her dancing up to scratch, but to the untutored eye she’s pretty impressive.

I don’t always like her as an actress (she wasn’t the worst thing about V for Vendetta but she should still have been imprisoned for it). But here she manages well to convey a perfectionist but self-doubting artist. Less impressive is the character of the demanding, sexually-predatory choreographer. Indeed, he is only the first of an ultimately bewildering number of clichés which take over the film. Towards the end I was praying the plot would take a less obvious and predictable route, but was disappointed. Visually stunning, for sure, Black Swan unfortunately never escapes the weight of its own obviousness.

Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is up for the Bafta for best film. In many ways revisiting the themes of his breakthrough movie, Memento, it did very well with audiences who enjoyed its impressive special effects. I’m a big fan of Nolan’s Batman movies, but I found this an irritating mess, full of effect for the sake of it, trying to play with notions of dream-time and layers of consciousness, but utterly failing to convince. That, ultimately, we are apparently supposed to care which of two billionaires control the world’s energy reserves sums the movie up. (If, indeed, that level of reality is, well, reality. But frankly by then I had lost the will to live.)

True Grit, the latest offering from the unpredictable but often brilliant Joel and Ethan Coen, also up for best film, is a remake of the classic Western which originally starred John Wayne in his last role. This time grisly old Rooster Cogburn is played by Jeff Bridges, with Matt Damon as his Texas Ranger rival/partner; and the girl whose father’s killers they are hunting is played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who’s up for leading actress and is certainly a talent to watch. It’s a curiously old-school and unironic take on the Western – good, watchable, but not the same level as the original.

The other nominees for Best Film (The King’s Speech and The Social Network) have already been reviewed in this paper. One other nomination worth mentioning, though — in the Best Original Screenplay category — is The Fighter, directed by David O Russell and written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, which stars Mark Wahlberg as a plucky boxer, spurred on by his failed-fighter drug-head older brother, played by Christian Bale. It’s tough, well-acted stuff, but in rather familiar will-he-win-the-big-fight-or-get-smashed-to-shit vein.

A film which surprisingly hasn’t made it into any Bafta categories is the recently-released Blue Valentine, directed by Derek Cianfrance, which stars the underrated Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose relationship we watch both as it disintegrates and as it began. These are real performances, vastly more impressive than Colin Firth as a stuttering monarch, which is what will probably win Best Actor. It’s a powerful, moving if not indeed upsetting character-study, which has, in Britain at least, been sadly overlooked.

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