David Edelstein doesn’t quite know what to make of Black Swan, the abstract expressionist fevered dream of 2010:
Portman gives the kind of performance that wins awards, largely because you‚Äôre so aware of her sacrifices to play the part. She looks as if she trained hard, and, for an actress, she dances well‚Äîalthough not brilliantly or distinctively enough to convince you that the company director would single her out. Toward the end of Black Swan, her face is all bone and hollows, like a shrunken head; it comes as a relief to gaze (too briefly) on the full, rounded features of Mila Kunis as Nina‚Äôs insinuating, fake-solicitous rival. Meanwhile, Hershey‚Äôs tight face emblemizes another, more Hollywood brand of female insecurity and masochism. Aronofsky cast Winona Ryder as the aging prima ballerina whom Nina replaces, and I couldn‚Äôt help but think he was exploiting her reputation as an increasingly unstable ingenue who crashed and burned. The movie is full of casualties‚Äîthey could all win awards.
Black Swan is crushingly obvious from its first frame to its exultant final whiteout, with poor Cassel having to utter variations of the same exhortation in every scene. (When he directs Nina to go home and touch herself, Aronofsky makes sure we see the giant stuffed bunny near her bed.) But this is, no doubt about it, a tour de force, a work that fully lives up to its director‚Äôs ambitions. It takes a long time to purge Tchaikovsky from your head: You exit, pursued by a swan.