Posts Tagged ‘Rooney Mara’

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 14.45.15As winter comes upon us and the nights draw in, it seems natural to reflect on the fruits of the previous year. But considering 2015’s cinema releases, the quality seems as scarce as the leaves on the trees. So let’s give thanks that a genuinely good film has arrived to leave 2015 looking a little sprightlier.

Carol is the latest film by veteran US indie director Todd Haynes, a sensuous, nuanced romance between two women set in 50’s America. Rooney Mara plays Therese, an elfin, wide-eyed store clerk who catches the eye of Carol, played by Cate Blanchett. If Therese is shy and unsure of herself, then Carol is the opposite; confident, worldly, seductive. While Therese, betrothed to her beefy fiancee, struggles with her feelings of attraction, we learn that Carol already has enough experience of the same sex. In the midst of a messy divorce to her rich husband Harge, Carol’s dalliances with her friend Abby has left their marriage soured.

There is a brilliantly concise scene early on in the film where Therese and her journo friend discuss why people are attracted to a certain type of picture or subject. The message of the scene is clear; there is no real rhyme or reason to why one person is attracted to another, it just happens. As their attraction deepens, Carol and Therese lose sight of the world around them and embark on a roadtrip across the country, escaping their bewildered spouses. It is, for the most part, wonderfully idyllic. Soulful gazes out at wintery landscapes, hushed intimacy, and passionate lovemaking.

That it begins to fall apart is inevitable, this IS a melodrama after all. Haynes has ploughed this furrow in previous films, most notably Far From Heaven, which dealt with similar themes of repression and forbidden romance. It’s an unusual story however for the writer Patricia Highsmith. She was widely known for her razor sharp, twisty psychological thrillers, such as The Talented Mr. Ripley. Carol, on the other hand, while flawlessly plotted, is warmer and less cynical. It will go down as one of the finest Highsmith adaptations yet.

I don’t think there has been a better performance by Blanchett. She is at times dominant, prowling, other times vulnerable, beaten. When she is on screen there is a radiant glow that draws you towards her, and we can see why Therese is so intoxicated with her. Rooney Mara is very fine as well, perfecting the role of the otherworldly, glacial younger woman. The film is very interesting in how it subverts the traditional gender roles; while we have seen plenty of femme fatales on screen, it is rare to see a character like Carol seducing another woman in such a dominant manner. But it is tender too.

Haynes has always been a sensory film maker, if we think back to his claustrophobic thriller Safe and how he manipulated the banal sights and sounds of LA into a horror tale. Carol is of course quite different, but similarly immersive. The film is shot through with a warm, nostalgic glow and the camera sidles in closely to the characters; lingering, loving shots of fur coats, china white hands and blushed cheeks. It is not just that you observe the intoxication of love with these characters, it is that you actually begin to feel it. Carter Burwell’s delicate score echoes the ebb and flow of the scenes faultlessly.

Carol is one of those rare films that is intelligent and cerebral but also naked and sentimental. Every beat of the story is marked by an emotional authenticity; there is not a misstep or a stumble here. Haynes and his crew turn an incisive eye on the tribulations of 50’s repression and give us a moving portrayal of two human beings struggling against an unjust society. It is a testament to the film that we feel with them every step of the way.

 

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I give Soderbergh three years. Three years for him to put down the paintbrush and get back to film making again. Anyone who has read an interview with Soderbergh recently can attest to the fact that he is undergoing some silver screen existential crisis. This, Side Effectswill be his last proper film before he folds up the director’s chair. Cinema has become too stale for him. Canvas is the way forward. We’ll see, Steven, we’ll see.

If Side Effects is really his last film, then the eclectic auteur has gone out with a bang rather than a whimper. The Hollywood veteran has worked at a furious rate since his 1989 breakthrough Sex, Lies and Videotape, melding an inimitable career of highbrow blockbusters and arthouse experiments. No one has blurred the line so successfully between art and commerce in Hollywood the past 20 years or so. Soderbergh is a one off, so for him to announce his surrender is disappointing. Side Effects is perhaps a perfect encapsulation of Soderbergh’s strengths as a film maker, a devastating mix of cinematic thrills and probing social satire.

Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a moderately achieving urbanite whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison for insider trading. A fledgling married couple, Emily struggles to adapt to the return of her husband, and resorts to suicidal flirtations in a cry for help. A meeting with suave English doctor Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) alerts her to the availability of Ablixa, a new anti-depressant that will apparently cue her woes. Dr. Banks, however, has ulterior motives for supplying Ablixa; a lucrative contract with the pharmaceutical company behind the drug leaves him eager to press the drug on new clients. The drug begins to work its wonders and Emily and Dr Banks are ecstatic- that is until things start to go dreadfully, devastatingly wrong.

Side Effects is one of those few films where it works much better if you know little about it. Scott Z Burn’s sparky, live wire script is as twisty as a drive down a Scottish highlands road. If you think you have a handle on where Side Effects is going, think again. While the first third succeeds as a psychological thriller in the Polanski vein, the final two acts change tact and move into another genre entirely and then back again. It is testament to Soderbergh and Burn’s talent that the story never loses focus or sags as the plot veers from one direction to the next. It is gripping from start to finish.

The blank beauty of Mara is utilised perfectly by Soderbergh, perfectly conveying the sense of despair that depression brings, while also hinting at something bubbling under the surface. Law, a much maligned actor, proves how talented he can be with the right role. His Dr Banks is eminently likeable, personable yet flawed. You get the sense that this is someone with high moral aspirations, but always a few fingertips away from grasping this moral ground. The film takes Banks to murky places, but his character never feels emotionally adrift from the audience. Tatum and Catherine Zeta Jones, as the creepy Dr Siebert, both give strong performances in smaller roles. You wonder why Zeta Jones hasn’t played the queen bitch role more often, as she excels here.

Side Effects also features a disorientating array of visuals, led by Peter Andrews (Soderbergh’s DOP alias). Never complacent, Soderbergh moves from muted greys to flushed reds from scene to scene, mirroring the disorientating effects of the drugs. A mixture of high and low angle shots add to the confusion, keeping the audience on their toes all the time. Thomas Newman’s tingly ambient score is like a quietly sinister lullaby floating through the film, contributing to the sense of dread. Soderbergh’s films have often been interesting sensory exercises and this is no different.

While there are moments when the audience’s plausibility meter is stretched to breaking point, Soderbergh always pulls it back. Side Effects performs perfectly as an exercise in the paranoid thriller genre, but it is also a film keen to deliver a message and keep the audience thinking for a few days. It touches on the financial crisis and the effect that has had on society, the pharmaceutical industry and even the judiciary system. It is definitely not just a pretty face. While the cinematic thrills and spills are the ones that grab you by the wrists, the message of moral responsibility will inevitably linger in the mind.

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Following the huge international success of the original Stieg Larsson novels, as well as the Swedish films, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seemed like inevitable source material for a Hollywood remake. With only two years between the release of the original Swedish film and the US version it feels fortunate that the director attached to the project was David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network), one of Hollywood’s most creative and consistent filmmakers. However, this does not necessarily guarantee a worthwhile adaptation of the Swedish murder mystery.

Fincher tells the story of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) investigating the murder of a young girl back in the 1960’s, using an intense stylisation drawn from its Swedish setting. A near constant barrage of snow and wind fills the mise-en-scene and sound design. This version of the story depicts an exaggerated Sweden, owing to Fincher’s background in music videos and love of digital technology.

Like the Swedish film, this one intrigues us with the disturbed Lisbeth Salander character. Fincher accentuates her features, casting the effeminate Rooney Mara and moulding her into a mohawk wearing chain smoker. Salander’s ballsy intelligence is what created the international sensation and Mara successfully portrays this, but unlike the Swedish film (where Salander was always a step ahead of the audience) Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo feels a little more predictable. As with the exaggeration in style, it seems that the plot has also become more obvious.

While reducing the sense of mystery found in the original, Fincher opts to disturb instead. This places his interpretation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo closer to his earlier films like Seven, but this does not always feel like the right treatment. As a story which works on numerous levels The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems difficult to perfect; perhaps this is due to the complexity of the novel, clashing with the need to produce a product that lives up to great commercial expectations. With this in mind Fincher delivers a good effort, but not a career best.

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