Carol. A movie by Todd Haynes.


This is a quite magnificent exploration of sexual awakening unlike anything I’ve ever seen and directed with such a firmness of hand as to be an immediate contender for Best Director at this year’s Oscars.  Fans of MTV series Mildred Pierce will see some similarities, but this is period moviemaking on a peerless scale.

Every second of screen time has a period detail that takes your breath away, so assume an Oscar will also be heading the way of Judy Becker (Design) and Jesse Rosenthal (Art Direction) as well as Sandy Powell’s costumes.  Honestly, it makes Mad Men look heavy handed.  That may in part be down to the gorgeous cinematography by Edward Lachman (Virgin Suicides).  The music by Carter Burwell will also be in the mix come judgement day.  So that’s six Oscars before we even get to the main talking point.

So; Rooney Mara or Cate Blanchett?

This movie is like watching the equivalent of the Rumble in the Jungle –  the two greatest boxers of their generation, one on the ascent, the other at the peak of their powers – so too here. Marra the lady in waiting, Blanchett at a dizzying career high after last year’s electrifying Blue Jasmine performance.

As the title character you would expect her to dominate the proceedings but that wholly underestimates the abilities of Rooney Mara who often, and tantalisingly, is a doppelgänger for Audrey Hepburn.  Consequently  Haynes and Lachman are compelled to hold the camera, long and sure on her utterly beguiling features. Blanchett, by contrast, can only be described as both handsome and regal.

So, the story unfolds as an elder socialite, Carol, totally disgusted with her affluent but corporate married life, and a dark past as a – whisper it because the word could not be uttered in McCarthy’s 1950’s USA – lesbian, sets eye on the virginal Mara in a pre-Christmas department store.  The impact on both is immediate.  The sexual tension starts from that very first moment and builds and builds until finally consummated in a Motel room in the midst of a Thelma and Louise-esque road trip (albeit one that’s driven at a much slower pace).

This ‘forbidden’ love comes with significant baggage; Blanchett’s estranged husband spots it soon enough and uses their 4 year old daughter as a ransom for her to return to the familial home.  This destroys Blanchett and makes the illicit relationship impossible to maintain.

It’s a beautiful celebration of love; what little sex the film contains – with an OTT BBFC statement that it contains infrequent strong sex – is both tasteful and genuinely loving.

Really it’s hard to unpick the complex and symbiotic relationship that these two women have forged on screen.  One performance could not exist without the other and it is to Haynes’ extreme credit that he keeps a hold on it all and guides it effortlessly into the land of classic cinema.

Go see it before it’s too late.


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

For the second time in as many years Hollywood has come out to face up to the competition from outstanding Swedish cinema with remakes that, at the time of announcement, seemed indecently hasty.

Cashing in, one might conject?  Maybe so, as the movies in question, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “Let me in” could both be accused of copying the Swedish originals quite closely.

So, Boxing Day in the UK saw the much anticipated Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, stateside version, hit our screens and boy does the US cinema industry once again show that it can hold its own against European art house with some ease.

The original (Swedish) movie, which was adapted from a mega hit novel by Steigg Larson, was outstanding.

This reviewer gave it an IMDB score of 9.0.  So how does this compare?

In a word.  Admirably.

Indeed the US version actually communicates the story slightly more clearly than the Swedish adaptation (and that’s not a comment about subtitles).

The fact is, David Fincher is on fire and he has once again crafted a thriller that sits proudly alongside Se7en.

The film opens with a thundering, and truly awesome, cover of Led Zepellin’s Immigrant Song by Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose (the Social Network) – there’s a nice touch early in the movie when Lisbeth’s go to man for forgeries appears wearing a NIN T shirt – and the opening credits, again like se7en are worthy of an Oscar in their own right.  Brilliantly mixing oil and flame (a theme that bookends the movie) they set the scene to perfection.

Black.  Black as you can get.

You’ll probably know the plot if you’re reading this so I won’t go into it; it’s a complex and interwoven tale of historical murder and modern day defamation mixing religion, Nazism and extreme sexual torture, but it’s all handled with a restraint that makes it all the more shocking in a directorial masterclass by Fincher.  With the exception of the brutally bad Benjamin Button, Fincher is building a body of work (including The Social Network, Fight Club, Zodiac The Panic Room and Se7en) that makes him the current king of the thriller and one of the best and most reliable directors in Hollywood.

Daniel Craig is very good in this but Rooney Mara blows him away with a performance every bit as good as Roomi Rapace’s in the Swedish version.

This is a languid, but often shocking, storytelling experience.  It’s a great movie.  Sure, it’s only really a pseudo cop film but it’s got everything that anyone loves about great film making could hope to see in a luxuriant 156 minutes.

Magic. 9/10