Directed by: Todd Haynes
Produced by: Elizabeth Karlsen
Screenplay by: Phyllis Nagy
Based on: The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Starring: Cate Blanchett
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cinematography by: Edward Lachman
Editing by: Affonso Goncalves
Studio(s): Number 9 Films
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company
Release date(s): May 17, 2015 (Cannes Film Festival)
November 20, 2015 (United States)
November 27, 2015 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 118 minutes
Country(s): United Kingdom
Production budget: $11.8 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $26.9 million
Today's film up for review is Carol, the critically acclaimed (it stands as MetaCritic's best reviewed film of 2015) romantic drama from Todd Haynes. The film has been much lauded, garnering many accolades, including Best Film/Picture nods at the upcoming BAFTAs and the Golden Globes, but surprisingly it didn't turn up as a nominee in the Academy Awards' list. This struck me as odd for there is also a significant word-of-mouth following surrounding the film, and certainly among the four or five most talked-about films of 2015. Anywho, it is based on the novel The Price Of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, and is set in 1952 in New York City, and follows the story of Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a shopgirl and aspiring photographer, who through recommending a present for her daughter develops a relationship and falls in love with an older woman, the eponymous Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), who is also going through a difficult divorce. Got it? Good!
To start off with the good, both of the central performances are terrific. I have to say this, just to clear the air surrounding it, I consider Rooney Mara to be the lead and Cate Blanchett to be the supporting performer. With that out of the way, I'll deal with them individually. Mara proved with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo her talent, and once again she has shown another layer to her palette with her Therese. There's an element of a coming-of-age story with the character, and from the get-go, with an Audrey Hepburn-esque quality, believably depicts this innocent, almost waifish girl, becoming a confident, independent woman. Equally strong in her own way is Blanchett, whose dexterous and multi-layered performance is a masterclass of portraying someone hiding behind a mask of elegant seductiveness to hide her anxieties and fears. Both performances are committed, emotionally raw and charged with tension, for which both Mara and Blanchett deserve due praise. There are a number of other quality aspects of to the film. Edward Lachman's cinematography is a strong example of visual storytelling. A lot of what we see in the film is witnessed through windows, glass, mirrors, cameras, with the attention to the minute detail in the characters' performance being depicted through these extra layers. As we have already got a layer to work through (the movie screen, by default) and those of the characters, what this does is is objectively hone in on the characters so we notice little things, as though looking at blood samples under a microscope. The film's mise-en-scene also helps contribute to this distinctive visual aesthetic, balancing between being respectful of the period setting but also in evocatively having something to say about the characters and the visages (or lack thereof) they put on in public. Earlier on I mentioned the word 'elegant,' a word which I think describes best the score by Carter Burwell. I like Burwell, but I am notoriously grouchy when it comes to classical film compositions. This certainly wasn't the case here. Burwell's compositions are (I am loth to put it this way) textbook examples on how to develop a given piece for a given scene. Beginning minimally, gradually building up before swelling towards their climax, Burwell's score appropriately parallels the action onscreen. Finally, under Todd Haynes' direction, Carol stays a sure and steady path, telling in a real classy fashion the story of a great romance, whilst also saying what needs to be said in terms of the thematic content. Unlike a lot of other filmmakers, who would let their 'message' overcome their story, Haynes is smart enough play it subtle and simply let the story tell itself, as opposed to hammering home the point ad nausea. This is a confidently made film, and good for Haynes playing it that way.
Now, this is the part where I get negative feedback for not properly going through the film as far as negative criticism. I liked Carol. I would go so far as to say it is a great movie, and there are so many things going for it. Indeed, I think in ten-twenty years time, this is going to be a film with the reputation of a contemporary classic, and it might grow on me as well. However, I did leave the cinema feeling that having seen Blue Is The Warmest Colour a couple of years ago that I personally preferred it to Carol. Why? Well, it's one of those cases of me having to base my conclusions on my own personal preferences as regards aesthetics. Carol aesthetically views it's characters objectively, so you feel slightly removed watching the drama unfold, and as such it feels colder. While I admire and respect the intent behind these aesthetics, it is the complete opposite of what Blue Is The Warmest Colour does, which is to subjectively view the characters from the perspective of protagonist Adele, so there's a great feeling of intimacy and warmth resonating off of the film. This is not an explicit criticism of Carol, but I've got to go with my gut on this one, and I just think Blue Is The Warmest Colour tackles a similar story in a manner I find more personally preferential.
Despite my feelings as regards preferring the aesthetics of Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Carol is still a great movie with a lot going for it. Boasting two terrific central performances from Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, it also features deft digital cinematography which has a way of adding another layer to the drama, has a balanced and evocative mise-en-scene, an elegant score from Carter Burwell and a sure and steady path carved out by Todd Haynes. Overall, a strong and well-developed piece of work.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright (keep on rollin', baby, you know what time it is!)