Darren Aronofsky has made some incredibly interesting films, ones that tend to be divisive and provoke thought and discussion. His directing style is visually stunning and evocative even if that can lead to critiques when it’s not reigned in. One thing you can always count on is a fantastic performance from whoever is on screen. These are my personal favorites from his films prior to Noah.
While Marisa Tomei garnered a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work in The Wrestler, I was more impressed with Evan Rachel Wood’s part as Randy’s estranged daughter, Stephanie. From her initial understandably pissed off rejection to her father to the tentative smile she gives at that goofy green jacket, there’s an immediate depth to this character. Sure she’s part of a pretty by the numbers reconnection story, but she gives it weight because of Wood’s effortless vulnerability.
In the history of psychotic screen mothers, Erica Sayers earned a spot in the pack from her first scene in this movie. Remember, that’s before you see the room full of portraits she painted of her daughter. Hershey plays the horrifying stage mom to a tee, constantly having this look of craze in her eyes that manages to be theatrical but never over the top as she tries to control Nina and live out her failed dreams (ever notice how she usually wears the tight bun that most ballerinas sport?).
While The Fountain is a difficult movie to describe and may be overambitious at times, the one thing that held it together for me was Hugh Jackman’s performance. He’s able to take the best and worst of the material here and make it emotionally connect. His best work is in the present day storyline, as Tommy, a doctor obsessively trying to find a cure for his wife’s illness even if it means not giving her the attention she needs as her health fails. You understand his need to try (wouldn’t you) and you mourn when he realizes how futile it is to attempt to cheat death.
Cassel is amazingly perverse as Nina’s ballet company director, Thomas, who forces her to get in touch with her more passionate side, even if his methods are a bit unsavory. He’s constantly trying to use sex to get results, abusing his power and creeping up the place. His intensity has a rawness to it, at its best in the scene when he seduces Nina through his dancing and then walks out on her right when things get heavy. Cassel is perfectly cast as this manipulative man.
For an actress mostly seen in comedic roles, this was a breakout performance in Mila Kunis’s career. She is fantastic in this dark role, unlike anything you’ve seen her do before. You’re never certain what Lily’s intentions are, how innocent she might be, or if she’s really trying to take over Nina’s role. She channels her sex appeal into something sinister and her beautiful smile manages to be menacing. It was really impressive to see what Kunis is capable of, and I hope she gets more opportunities to stretch her acting.