Film Review: Carol

It is fair to say that Carol, Todd Haynes first film since his strange Bob Dylan biopic ‘I’m Not There.’ in which 6 different actors all played the titular role (including Cate Blanchett), is never going to be a mainstream movie. Its appeal will never be broad and I fear it’s going to be forgotten long before it’s time. And that, in part, is a shame.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a cult classic waiting to be discovered, there is no rough diamond in need of a polished. What there is, however, hidden beneath a ponderous exterior, is a very thought provoking look at not only the power within a relationship, but also, the power within forbidden love and the psychology of desire, lust and passion that encompasses it. While they approaches these subjects from very polaristic starting points, I came away from Carol thinking it’d make a great companion piece of The Duke of Burgundy.

Rooney Mara & Cate Blanchett (Shopping) - Carol

Carol stars Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in a story unacceptable love and societal consequences. It’s set, and had to be, in the 1950s and this provides it with the perfect natural pace, and stylising of life, to allow the narrative emotion to come to the forefront. Without the distraction of mobile phones, the internet or convenience the story can be told with the slow burn and emotional lingering it needs to really pack the power into what it is trying to say.

That isn’t to say the film is in any way in your face. It’s very cerebral. It’s the type of film that will envelop you, making it’s points through a touch of a hand, or a look with the eyes. It says more through the unspoken word than any dialogue could imply. This reliance on character action and expression means that the film is entirely carried by the performance of it’s cast and, thankfully, they are up to the job.

Rooney Mara & Cate Blanchett (Seductive) - Carol

The titular Carol is played by Cate Blanchett and, while her performance is good, I don’t think she quite convinces as much as she did in Blue Jasmine. I could never quite shake the sensation that she was having to put effort into her role. At times she just appeared unable to relax, that she was being asked to be a bit too quiet and removed to fully commit to the character. She was always Cate and never Carol. Mara, however, is a different story. I have been a huge fan of hers since she easily stole the show in US remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and even though she’s appears to have taken a step back from the “leading lady” spot light (taking only minor/supporting roles in Her and Side Effects for example) she really does shine the brightest here and prove just how talented she is. You could argue that the introverted, quiet, ‘stand at the back and look subdued’ submissive role suits her image perfectly, but even so, she convinces more than anyone else and her eyes speak with a volume above any other.

The rest of the cast drop in and out as needed in a way that doesn’t really add anything to the film, but doesn’t hurt it either. They are there to compliment the initial relationship, to provide the main characters with a depth and backstory that can’t be conveyed through the unspoken word. Both Kyle Chandler (as Carol’s husband) and Sarah Paulson (as the elusive best friend Abby) are perfect examples of this; never feeling like they are impinging on the film with their presence, or leaving your wanting to know more about them, but always arriving just as the film threatens to lose its way and potential become monotonous. They are the foil to jerk it back on track and back into focus.

Cate Blanchett (Drinking) - Carol

This might sound like I thoroughly enjoyed Carol, and in a way I did, but I also found it far too long to sustain the type of story it tells. It’s just shy of 2 hours and the slow nature and emotional baggage it provides meant my concentration wandered at times as I drifted slowly along. It really could do with either a change of vantage point to change the pace or a harder edit to reduce the mental loading. In it’s current form, it just struggles to keep you completely engaged with it.

The easiest conclusion of Carol I can give is that it is the type of film that is destined to pick up a few award nominations, fail to win, and then appear in the future on TV at 1am. It is very much a movie that you will look at, remember hearing good things about, and then pass up for something else. The few good things not conjuring enough mental clarity to pull you in and sell you the film. I would like to say that’s a shame, because, however flawed, it is a good, emotive film, but if I’m brutally honest, it’s not enough to make it worth seeing.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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