In Todd Haynes’ picture-perfect design of aching mid-century refinement and repression, Carol (adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt), our titular maddening matron (Cate Blanchett) meets her soon-to-be lover/shop girl Therese (Rooney Mara) in the toy department while looking for a doll for her four-year girl for Christmas. Therese convinces her instead to buy a train set. The whole film, delicately detailed and quietly chugging along, is like that perfectly constructed train set – and the characters are all there perfect in their places…until they aren’t…until their desires cause everything that was supposed to represent the American Dream in the 1950’s to derail.
Haynes and his lead, Blanchett, are firmly in their wheelhouses. Blanchett is right at home depicting a troubled woman stuck at the echelons of society in an impossibly well-do-family with a controlling husband (Kyle Chandler) and adorable little girl with impossibly WASPy names like Harge and Rindy. She was made to play this type of role, a woman of carefully controlled mannerisms hiding her repression and passions. Continue reading →
In 1960’s Greece, a dapper middle-aged American chap named Chester (a groggy but dashing Viggo Mortensen) on holiday with his trophy bride Colette (an effortlessly alluring Kirsten Dunst) spot a charming but suspicious young fellow (a cool Oscar Isaac) eyeing them at various locales. Daringly, Collette confronts him while in line at a rest room and finds out he’s an American, too, and a freelance tour guide named Rydel. Much to her husband’s chagrin, she’s invited Rydel to show them around the markets. The audience already knows Rydel is a bit of a scam artist, pretending to haggle in Greek with the merchants for his clients and pocketing the difference in price or flim-flamming them during monetary exchanges. After a night on the town for dinner and drinks, Chester has Rydel all figured out, though he and his wife have been thoroughly charmed by the con man’s company. Later at their hotel, a private investigator comes searching for Chester and sets off a series of unfortunate events that leave the couple in deep trouble and turning to Rydel for help.
The Two Faces of January deals with the duplicity of human beings and the fragility of their relationships. It’s adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel (the author best known for creating the character of Tom Ripley) and is competently scripted and directed by first time helmer Hossein Amini (best known for his sparse and effective Drive screenplay). With its beautiful travelogue vistas and breezy charm, it echoes the highbrow classiness of a bygone era of filmmaking…suspenseful without being salacious, intriguing without a whiff of trashiness.