Stylish filmmaker Todd Haynes returns to the 1950s for Carol, based on The Talented Mr. Ripley author Patricia Highsmith's semi-autobiographical novel, The Price of Salt, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as secret lovers. The stunning film is a mature work of effortlessly stitched together scenes of beautiful moments and long glances the way only Haynes can capture his actresses on screen.
Filmed in gorgeous Super 16mm film by cinematographer Edward Lachman, the relationship between Blanchett's glamorous New Jersey housewife, Carol Aird, and Rooney's Manhattan shopgirl, Therese Belivet, is a splendid, mostly unspoken work of emotion and desire. Both lead actresses give completely fluid and parallel performances against each other recreating conventional romantic beats with little twists and turns. Haynes continues his streak of romantically lush settings and subtly restrained storytelling.
Playwright Phyllis Nagy, a confidant of Highsmith's, has scripted a straightforward but substantial framework that ably captures the pair's natural magnetism and mutual attraction superbly. The structure of a moving female gaze is refreshing in how it delves into romantic obsession and uses an ongoing motif of human contact to contrast society's restrictive attitudes of the Eisenhower era.
Haynes could have easily framed the central romance as a work of forbidden love and made archetypes of his supporting characters. However, Kyle Chandler as Carol's unrelenting, soon to be ex-husband is given some meaty material as a possessive but confused presence throughout while Jake Lacy appears to earnestly court Therese and fulfill the ideals of '50s culture. A very supportive Sarah Paulson fleshes out Carol as a good sense of strength and history playing her best friend and former lover. The cast and their performances are fairly tremendous all working towards the culmination of this troubled relationship.
Like the titular character, the film haunts you into its gaze of longing and romance. Haynes has crafted a sumptuous, unsentimental look at female love. Carol simmers from beginning to end before the audience cam realize how moving and captivating its story and performances are just as Carter Burwell's dynamic musical score swells with emotion. Its inevitable comparisons to Brokeback Mountain only reveal how truly universal a romance it really is in its wondrous exploration of sexual magnetism.
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