Mister Cinecal

Mister Cinecal

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Period Piece Pile-Up: Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Carol

So with an open schedule, plenty of time to myself and a predilection to spend money I don't have (the "I'm doing JUST FINE" hat-trick) I found myself 3 films over 3 days, all of which take place in the 1950s in Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies and Carol. Here are some thoughts on the three of them!


Brooklyn is a film your mother will enjoy. That isn't intended to be as derisive as it sounds, mothers need movies too and in an age where Hollywood is primarily interested in finding out if they can give superheroes lightsabers, they could do with a few more movies that cater to their needs and Brooklyn is a nice, pleasant story about a nice, pleasant young woman who comes to see New York as a nice pleasant place to live once she meets a nice, pleasant young Italian boy to marry. Saoirse Ronan plays Enniscorthy immigrant Eilis Lacey well, injecting just enough sharpness and resolve into the passive, shy character to make it credible when she comes out of her shell and comes to feel at home in New York. Brooklyn's problem is that it all feels too straightforward, though it's very refreshing to see an immigrant's tale told this positively, the first half of the film doesn't present Eilis with many challenges beyond her own home sickness, rowing back at most opportunities for hardship; even her giddy housemates aren't that bad.

Returning to Ireland for a spell after the death of her beloved sister, a phantom conflict finally sets into the film, the people who care about Eilis back home are essentially conspiring to keep her from wanting to go back to America. But why would she not want to go back to the bright, soft-focus, sanded-down edges of Brooklyn's Brooklyn? Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson have little and nothing to do as Eilis' respective American and Irish suitors, but the characters work as broader allures of America and Ireland and Ronan does the heavy lifting selling the romance. It's just difficult for a film to get into a good rhythm when the whole story is about the main character developing agency they don't get until the last five minutes. Look, it's fine. Brooklyn-take your mum.

Bridge of Spies

With Steven Spielberg behind the lens, Tom Hanks in front of it and a story about Important American Events told in a script the Coen brothers helped to write, Bridge of Spies could entertain audiences and pick up Oscar nominations in its sleep. And while the film never nods off completely, it could have used a strong pot of coffee to reach a higher level. I don't know, something, something metaphor. Despite the title, Bridge of Spies is really more about the posturing side of duplicity rather than the espionage side. Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan, the lawyer tasked first with defending a Soviet spy and then with trading him for an American spy plane pilot the Russians have captured. Donovan is the one who insists on complicating matters, first by actually bothering in his defence of the loathed Rudolf Abel and then by trying to trade him for both the American pilot and an American student held by East Germans after getting stuck on the wrong side of the fresh Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall's prominence in the film is appropriate, as the story itself is split right down the middle; Donovan defending Abel in American and negotiating with poker-faced Russians and resentful Germans in Europe.

The problem is that both halves end up lacking something. The section in America's strength is in the relationship that develops between Donovan and Abel but is bogged down in details that don't really resonate (unfortunately most of these involve Donovan's family), while the sections in East Germany have more zip but are hampered by separating Donovan and Abel. Donovan's investment shifts to getting both Americans home, which is natural for his character but the Americans plight isn't as engaging as a viewer because a) they receive much less focus than Abel and b) they're just not as interesting to watch as Mark Rylance as Abel. Hanks is just crotchety enough to make Donovan's gee whiz good ol' boy nature play but stage actor Rylance is the real revelation of the film. Abel's matter-of-fact stoicism doesn't make him an obviously endearing character, but his quirks and Rylance's gentle performance make him so likable. The two halves come together when we finally get to the bridge for a great climax, then Spielberg-doing a great job until this point-keeps the film going five minutes too long and Spielbergs so hard with schmaltz and obviousness that a film that finally gets it all together ends on a sour note, for me at least. Definitely not as stodgy as it appears on first glance, Bridge of Spies moves at a real clip once it gets going and has real wit and typical charming Coen details, it's just a shame it doesn't all come together like it could have.


When watching Carol (and you absolutely should be watching Carol) take note of how many scenes are shot through car windows. A frame within a frame-if you'll forgive the critic wankery-that captures very private moments, where nothing is ever said but for us so much can be gleamed. Director Todd Haynes fills Carol with pensive, intimate moments like these. It's worth paying attention to these car window scenes to train yourself for the subtleties the film is operating with, Carol is a slow burner that leaves a lot unsaid but evident as the relationship blossoms between Rooney Mara as shy aspiring photographer Therese Belivet and Cate Blanchett as the older woman Carol.

I can't speak to how closely the film adheres to source material The Price of Salt, but the performances of Blanchett and Mara surely do Therese and Carol justice. Think of how many dozens of heterosexual screen romances have had an age gap they've tried as hard as possible to ignore, here it's central to the dynamic and almost entirely comes through in performance, not dialogue. Blanchett's dignified, confident showing (and status as title character and executive producer) might garner more award attention, but if anything Mara is even better and again it's through so much subtlety and silence as she develops from passive to passionate. The film mostly takes the homophobia of the era as a given and uses it economically-where most stories would hinge on the drama of Carol and Therese getting caught, Carol uses them getting caught to service a greater drama; the danger it represents to their relationship. With a stronger throughline than either Brooklyn or Bridge of Spies, Carol is the pick of the period pieces.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting reviews, I look forward to watching Carol and as a mum will definitely give Brooklyn a go!