Given its rapturous score, its elegant vintage costumes, and the trademark beauty with which Todd Haynes composes his frames, “Carol,” the latest film from the meticulous director, can easily register as vibrant and lush. Even the regal glamor of Cate Blanchett, who plays the gussied-up title character, is enough to make “Carol” glow.
And yet, there’s a fog that hangs over this certifiable masterpiece—one of cigarette smoke, constant unease, and the gloom of post-World War II New York. Carol, a suburban housewife not so unlike Blanchett’s character in “Blue Jasmine” (both women mask their messes with grand, highbrow affectations), meets shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara) in a department store at Christmas. Intentionally or not, Carol leaves her gloves behind, and they essentially become the glass slipper that sparks the pair’s romance, which is drastically different for each woman.
Mara may never achieve the alternately grandiose and quietly tragic bravura of Blanchett, an actor who will go down in history with the greats, but she’s perfectly cast here, playing a woman who of course looks like a deer in headlights, as everything around her is terrifyingly, yet tantalizingly, new. And while Carol and Therese seem both wrong and right for each other (they don’t initially scan as a cheer-worthy couple), there’s something between them the audience isn’t meant to see—something we must trust is rich enough to warrant ensuing trauma.
Such is just one facet of the immaculate restraint of “Carol,” easily Haynes’s best film and the best adaptation of a novel by Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”). There are no preachy speeches about the story’s queerness, only bewilderment from a deeply desperate husband (Kyle Chandler). There’s no elaborate explanation of the bond between Carol and her old flame Abby (the luminous Sarah Paulson), just glimpses into an enduring sisterhood that need not be defined.
In recent years, the plight of the desperate housewife has been explored on big screens and small, but it’s hard to think of another tale that’s been so sympathetic. And considering it’s based on a text that was penned in 1952, “Carol” is at once a game-changer and foundational tale.
Four reels out of four
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Say what you will about his curious personal life, but Tom Cruise still has the chops as a bona fide action star, particularly when it comes to his surprisingly durable “Mission: Impossible” franchise. This fifth installment sees him re-team with co-stars Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames (among others), while his character, Ethan Hunt, evades the CIA while aiming to expose a global crime ring. ■