by Aaron Peck
With her new sex comedy 'No Strings Attached' hitting Blu-ray today, I thought we could take a look back at Natalie Portman's illustrious carer.
Portman's fame seems to have skyrocketed over the past couple of years. In fact, it seems she's had a movie released almost monthly lately! She started early, making her first role one of her most memorable, starring as Mathilda in 'Leon: The Professional'. That movie has gone on to become a cult classic, beloved by many. But Portman didn't really achieve ultimate stardom until she starred in George Lucas' 'Star Wars' prequels as Queen Amidala. Those movies made her a household name. With two theatrical releases last year ('Black Swan' and 'Hesher') and three more this year ('Thor,' 'Your Highness,' and 'No Strings Attached') Portman shows no sign of slowing down.
I think it's safe to say that 'Black Swan' features Portman's best acting performance so far. She completely loses herself in the role of Nina Sayers. A ballerina who appears to be losing her mind amidst the pressure of winning the lead role in Swan Lake. Yes, I know about all the controversy surrounding the film, and about Portman's body double, but she's electric in this movie. She makes 'Black Swan' what it is. Without a devastating performance like hers, a movie this ambitious ends up falling flat. Darren Aronofsky directs the madness brilliantly, but it's Portman who brings it home. She earned her Oscar.
As I mentioned in the introduction, this was young Portman's first starring role, and it's a doozy. It's hard to believe she was a newcomer (and just 13 years old when the film was released), since she has some pretty emotional and moving scenes alongside seasoned actors like Jean Reno and Gary Oldman. 'Leon' isn't just one of my favorite Natalie Portman performances, it's one of my favorite films period.
I really loved 'V for Vendetta' when it first came out, and since my wife is also a huge fan, we've watched it numerous times on home video. Portman brilliantly portrays a young woman who gradually learns just how strong she really is. The scenes in which she's imprisoned are extremely moving and real. Great stuff!
I don't know why I enjoyed this movie so much, because I usually detest the experience of watching bad people doing horrible things to each other. There's just something about 'Closer' that seems a little more real than all those other pseudo-dramatic relationship movies out there (Mike Nichols' direction probably has a lot to do with that!). Plus Natalie Portman gets dressed up in stripper gear (which is always a good thing).
I'm going to totally out one of our fellow High-Def Digest writers here. 'Garden State' is the movie that made Luke Hickman want to write about cinema for a living. While I can't say that the Zach Braff helmed indie feature changed the way I looked at film, I thought that Portman's performance was fantastic as the spaced-out Sam. She won my heart when she tells Andrew about her fascination with being the first person to ever do something, no matter how weird that something is. I think about that type of stuff all the time. Hopefully we can get a Blu-ray release of this soon.
This relatively unknown film never really saw the light of day. That's not because it didn't have bankable names behind it. A movie starring Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman seems like a sure bet in today's box office. But in 2007 this stinker didn't even gross a million bucks domestically. Hopefully this one stays buried for a long time to come.
While I actually enjoyed 'New York, I Love You' I felt that Natalie Portman's segment was the weakest of all the short stories. Not only did she star in this snooze-worthy piece of the film, but she also directed it. When a segment directed by Brett Ratner seems much more engaging and innovative than your segment, you know something is wrong.
It's so strange how these random titles on an actor's filmography seem to somehow slip through the cracks without our knowledge. 'Free Zone' came in between 'Star Wars: Episode III' and 'V for Vendetta'. It wasn't like Portman was still an unknown actress. She'd become a star in her own right, but she somehow still starred in this overly symbolic mess of a movie that made a paltry $32,381 domestically.
I'm not a prequel hater. That's not why I'm putting these films on the list. Sure, the dreaded prequels have their problems, but I don't really want to turn this into another flaming battle of 'Star Wars' chatter. The reason these ended up on the list is because Portman's acting in these movies is simply awful. It's like the actress who starred in these films is a completely different person than the actress who starred in 'Black Swan'. Wooden is the perfect way to describe her lifeless performance as Queen Amidala.
'Where the Heart Is'
Finally, we have this sappy story about a pregnant teenager who works at Wal-Mart. It's a movie that is specifically engineered to tug at your heart strings with phony scenes of intimacy and emotion. I remember seeing 'Where the Heart Is' on a plane and thinking "This is just horrible." Indeed it is.
Even though Natalie Portman has been involved in a few stinkers along the way, she's certainly become a premiere actress in Hollywood. Fact is, she can sell tickets and put butts in the seats, which is why she was cast in a gigantic blockbuster like 'Thor'. When Portman is good, she's really good and she remains one of my favorite actresses working today.