Saturday, December 18, 2010

Seeking Perfection: "Black Swan" review

In most versions of film history, D.W. Griffith gets credited for "inventing" the close-up, for having the audacity (and, it turns out, the remarkable foresight) to move the camera right into the actor's face, cutting from a longer shot into the close-up. When audiences first saw an actor's face spread across the entirety of the screen's canvas, one can only imagine how revelatory it felt, to be able to read the movement of eyes, the curls of lips, the lines of the face in exacting detail at emotionally significant moments.

Watching Darren Aronofsky's torturous thriller, "Black Swan," is the closest I've come to feeling the sheer magnitude of the close-up in, well, ages. Following obsessively desperate ballerina Nina's (Natalie Portman) burning to desire to be the star of her company's "Swan Lake," and her subsequent mental breakdown over her desire to reach absolute perfection, the film doesn't so much let Portman create her fragility as it does graft it onto her. It is an oppressive, claustrophobic, utterly unnerving piece of psychological mayhem whose spiral into Nina's personal hell is as relentless as any American horror film in the past decade.

Friday, December 10, 2010

'Waiting for My Real Life to Begin': "Rabbit Hole" review

Becca (Nicole Kidman) goes to her garden. She lays soil, plants flowers, and gazes for just a moment at their beauty. The camera captures the purple flower in a dramatic close-up briefly before Becca is interrupted by a neighbor inviting her to dinner. She politely refuses, her wave of happiness vanishing behind slight coils of tension. Her smile evaporates and, for some reason, she seems nothing but defeated.

These are the opening moments of John Cameron Mitchell's "Rabbit Hole," a film comprised of small moments of unspeakable magnitude. Picking up with a grief-stricken couple (Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) eight months after their son was tragically killed by a wayward motorist, it's more than a poignant tear-jerker about learning how to deal with life's tragic luck.  This is a film to stir the soul, about minute choices and unsolvable dilemmas.  It's perfectly observed, marvelously captured, and somehow speaks to the deep recesses of our emotions.