Even if it didn’t have a spellbinding central performance from Cate Blanchett, Carol would be worth seeing just for its sumptuous re-creation of an era. Set in 1950s New York City at Christmas, Todd Haynes’ film is luminescent — like a perfectly preserved Kodachrome image.
But Carol, based on a novel from Patricia Highsmith, is more than mere visual splendor. It’s Blanchett at her best, playing a woman whose carefully manicured life begins to fall apart after she falls head over high heels for another woman.
At first, Carol seems to have it all: money, a nice house, a handsome husband named Harge (Kyle Chandler) and a young daughter (Sadie Helm). But the marriage is on the rocks and she and Harge are in the process of divorcing.
It doesn’t help that she has fallen hard for Therese, a young woman working at a department store, played by Rooney Mara. Their love is furtive and secret, and even more electric because it is forbidden fruit.
But the relationship also wreaks havoc with Carol’s life.
Haynes, who seems in love with the past, has traversed similar territory before. He directed the miniseries Mildred Pierce, based on the 1941 hard-boiled novel by James M. Cain, as well as Far From Heaven, a film about mores in flux in ’50s America that included Dennis Quaid’s character wrestling with his homosexuality.
But it all comes together with more cohesion here than it has in previous efforts. A large part of that is thanks to Blanchett, who makes Carol — the woman and the movie — palpably human.
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☆☆☆☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Kyle Chandler, Rooney Mara
Rated: R (a scene of sexuality/nudity, brief strong language)
Running time: 118 min.