**** (out of five) (releasing in Australia 14/01/16)
Carol is the latest successful adaptation of the incredibly cinema-friendly fiction of Patricia Highsmith, although here her source novel, The Price of Salt, is semi-autobiography. The material has found a perfect executor in director Todd Haynes, who combines his exquisite sense of period with a very personal subversive streak, and actors Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, who both seem to be able to simultaneously act as though they are performers of the period (1950s), commentators on such performers, and honestly emotionally involved modern actors. It has all the stylistic grace of Haynes’ Far From Heaven (2002), but it is more involving, and thus a slightly more advanced picture. It’s also a delight from start to finish.
Although The Price of Salt is a romance, it contains plenty of Highsmith’s A-Grade pulpy noir-ish tension, and Haynes’ film plays like a detective story with no detective, a murder mystery with no body. The love affair between two women – of different ages, “classes”, generations and responsibilities – is so forbidden that its enactment feels like a crime. Carol (Blanchett) and the much younger Therese (Mara) are lovers on the lam, criminals on the run.
Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson are both quite brilliant in the two major supporting roles; they too seem to get Haynes’ unique directive of acting both in the past and present at once (quite a feat!) The 16mm cinematography by Edward Lachman, and the stunning original score by Carter Burwell, are outstanding and should garner many award nominations and victories. Judy Becker’s production design is also faultless. This is one hell of a splendid, handsome movie.