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The Piano (1993)
Enjoyable, but not quite a classic
Set in the mid 1800s, The Piano tells the story of mute woman (Hunter) who is sent to marry a wealthy New Zealand land owner (Neill) along with her young daughter (Paquin) and her beloved Piano.
When Neill refuses to take an interest in his new bride's Piano or her music, he creates a rift with her. By contrast, a local Maori (Keitel) takes a keen interest the Piano and a keener interest in Hunter herself.
There is a lot to enjoy in this film. Holly Hunter gives a strong performance without any dialogue. Anna Paquin, then only 11 years old, provides one of the all-time great child performances as Hunter's inquisitive and earnest daughter. In a thankless but vital role, Sam Neill is strong as Hunter's distant husband.
Director Jane Campeon stages the film with a sensitive light tough - winning an Oscar for best screenplay. And Michael Nyman's haunting score perfectly complements the intimate storyline and performances.
But for all these strengths, The Piano is let down by some frustrating and avoidable weaknesses. Harvey Keitel is badly miscast as Hunter's Maori love interest. And we are introduced to several redundant characters, who serve no purpose to the central storyline.
The film would also have benefited from a clearer explanation of the motivations of the main protagonists. While some things can be left unsaid, the near-total lack of clear characterisation means the viewer is left somewhat indifferent to key emotional and plot developments.
Overall, The Piano is worth seeing, particularly for the two Oscar winning performances by Hunter and Paquin. But the frustrating flaws prevent it from being the classic it could easily have been.
Remember Me (2010)
A memorable romantic drama, which exceeds expectations
Remember Me was met with indifference by the majority of critics on its release. You should ignore these reviews. The positive reaction by the public and 'word of mouth' are far better indications that this film is well worth seeing.
Remember Me boasts a cast of fresh and talented actors, strong performances and an engaging script.
The chemistry between the main characters is enjoyable and reflects the ups and downs of youth. You may find yourself laughing along at one moment, but wrapped up in a moment of tension the next.
However, Remember Me is most notable for its powerful and moving finale, which make it a thought provoking romantic drama.
Its impact will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Black Swan (2010)
The performance of a lifetime by Natalie Portman...
There is a lot to enjoy in Black Swan.
The supporting cast, particularly Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis are terrific. Both give memorable performances and play key roles in the development of the story.
Darren Arenofsky ensures lively and creative direction. The ballet sequences are well choreographed, thrusting us right in to the heart of the action.
Arenofsky also places a strict emphasis on characterisation, tone and theme. It is these three elements which give the film its superbly dark, tense and claustrophobic feel.
But the star of the show is undoubtedly Natalie Portman, as lead ballerina Nina Sayers. There are two main reasons for this:
First - Natalie Portman's physical performance. I have heard that Portman underwent 10 months of intensive ballet training for the role. To my 'untrained eye', she expertly captured the beauty and poise of an authentic ballerina. Her competence in this most difficult and uncompromising of art forms is an impressive achievement in itself.
Second - Natalie Portman's outstanding character performance. I felt Portman captured every nuance of Nina Sayers' personality to perfection. A young woman's journey through joy, despair, doubt, confusion, jealousy, vulnerability, passion and lust are laid bare for us all to experience. I left the cinema really feeling like I knew Nina Sayers personally.
Natalie Portman's performance was undoubtedly the finest I have seen by an actress in a leading role, to date.
For that reason, I recommend this unique and compelling film to anyone.