February 24, 2012

Movie Rating: 9/10  BD Rating: 8/10

James M. Cain’s sordid tale of betrayal and struggle in the wake of the great depression has been given new life by Todd Haynes in a miniseries made for HBO. And who better to bring a dramatic period piece to the small screen than Haynes? The director is well versed in melodrama, having helmed the Douglas Sirk-ian Far From Heaven a decade ago.

The novel's first film version (directed by Michael Curtiz in 1945) was a vastly different beast, condensed into two hours, and with a storyline that was heavily altered for the big screen. For his version, Haynes has stayed much more faithful to the source material, giving the story the long-form treatment it deserves. Paired with an apt cinematographer and a rigorous production designer, HBO’s 2011 miniseries paints a stunning portrait of 1930s suburban California, where Mildred (an exceptional Kate Winslet) struggles to raise her two daughters after her husband walks out on her for another woman. Forced to take a job in a greasy spoon to make ends meet, she gradually saves enough money to open her own chain of restaurants.

This five-and-a-half-hour saga covers everything from adultery and greed, to death and tragedy. Mildred Pierce may sound like a heavy dose, but the gripping pace and formidable acting more than make up for the dour content. Rounding out the cast are Guy Pearce—as Mildred’s on-and-off lover, Monty—and Evan Rachel Wood—who does a fantastic job of making the audience despise her as the elder version of Mildred’s spoiled daughter, Veda.

Extras included in the package are informative, if not outstanding. There are a few behind-the-scenes featurettes, the highlight of which is, naturally, “The Making of Mildred Pierce”. This spot gives insight into every aspect of the creative process: from scripting, to casting, to making the streets of New York look like 1931 Los Angeles. And it goes without saying that the stunning Blu-ray transfer does justice to Edward Lachmann’s equally ravishing photography. —Jackie McClelland