Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Short Take: Mildred Pierce (2011 film)

This review originally appeared on Pol Culture.

With Mildred Pierce, director Todd Haynes gives the five-hour mini-series treatment to James M. Cain’s 1941 novel. It follows a self-made businesswoman in the Great Depression and her tempestuous relationships with her two husbands and eldest daughter. Haynes doesn’t tell the story so much as live it. The series is lavishly detailed and languorously paced. Haynes' immersion in the material feels like obsession. In lesser hands, this might seem oppressive, but one never feels Haynes can’t see the forest for the trees. He may take his sweet time presenting the story, but every scene is effectively shaped, and they add up to an outstanding whole. The deliberate tempo also dries out the soapiness that a brisker pace might have stumbled on. The cast is superb. As the title character, Kate Winslet is remarkably fluid and expressive. She seems to be living the role even more than Haynes is living the story. Evan Rachel Wood plays the vicious, narcissistic daughter in adulthood, and she may even be more impressive. She gives the character a bored, haughty glamour, but she also takes the viewer past this diamond-hard surface and into the daughter’s anger and drive. The character is in many ways the femme fatale of the piece, and one has never seen a femme fatale given this kind of depth. The mini-series’ portrayal of the daughter may even surpass the book’s. Brian F. O’Byrne and Guy Pearce hold their own as Mildred’s husbands, as does Melissa Leo as her best friend. Applause is also deserved for the contributions of cinematographer Edward Lachman and production designers Mark Friedberg, Peter Rogness, and Mark Pollard. They give the miniseries a look that elegantly evokes the period setting and lends it a lived-in feel. The teleplay is credited to Haynes and Jon Raymond. Note to readers: the mini-series includes several sexually explicit scenes. They would be enough to earn a theatrical feature a NC-17 rating.

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