It is often unfair to do a review of any project without having seen the production in its completed form, but having had the opportunity to screen the first two hours of the upcoming HBO mini-series, “Mildred Pierce” I feel comfortable in saying that the balance of the series will most likely be as worthwhile as the first two hours.
James Cain’s hardboiled novel was released back in 1941. It was a successful best-selling fiction novel that went on to become a major film. The book was adapted into the Academy Award winning 1945 film starring one of the great leading actresses of the Depression/World War II era. Joan Crawford was a gifted actress and a huge movie star. She was that rare gem who could open films and she would do so for many years beyond her formative period during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It is certainly no surprise that the film would be remade some 66 years later. It is such a well-defined role that any actress, let alone a gifted one looking for a meaty role would want to take it on.
Kate Winslet won her own Academy Award two years ago for “The Reader.” Winslet had been nominated multiple times prior to her acceptance of this award and it is not arguable that she is one of the best actresses working today. What is surprising is that she would take on an HBO mini-series as her follow-up to her Oscar win.
The original “Mildred Pierce” was directed by one of the masterful giants of filmmaking. Michael Curtiz directed Crawford to her only Oscar win and this was just one of over 150 films he directed. His filmography is enviable by any standard and it is also genre diverse. Few people making films today could possibly lay claim to this type of work. Curtiz directed some of the greatest films of the era, including “Casablanca” (you almost don’t have to say anymore), “Yankee Doodle Dandy” which featured James Cagney’s only Oscar winning performance, “The Sea Hawk,” “Captain Blood,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (arguably the three best films in the storied career of Errol Flynn), and 1954’s annual classic “White Christmas.” Can you believe that this is just a small portion of his output? Curtiz would be a hard act to follow, but Todd Haynes directs this updated film with a slow and deliberate spin, but it works on every level.
After her husband is taken away with abandon by a local tart, Mildred realizes quickly that life goes on; and in some ways she is better off without the unattractive and weak loser. She is trying to raise two daughters in a hard hit economic climate (similar to today) and yet she is somewhat of a minor elitist. How could this middle-class woman submit herself to low level work? Well, she needs to pay the bills. Southern California in the 1930’s is not particularly welcoming to women without a marketable skill set (same today) and she ends up taking a job at a local diner. I’m sure Guy Fieri would have made his way there in 2011.
Mildred is embarrassed by this hash house sideline, but it is her downright evil daughter, Veda who takes on her’s mother’s waste of life enterprise and reminds her how humiliating this all is. The young Veda is played brilliantly by Morgan Turner. Since I only saw two hours of the film I never had the opportunity to see the older version of Veda played by Evan Rachel Wood. This girl is bad. I mean bad. She is a self-absorbed, demonic, mean-spirited sleaze who will pretty much do anything to anyone to get what she wants. Great movies are made on these beyond shady types. Of course, if you know the story it just keeps getting worse. Yes, the daughter eventually murders someone and mommy dearest (no pun intended) needs to help her out. She also has an affair with mom’s beau. Bad, bad, bad girl.
This film is polished, poised and downright perfect. Kate Winslet turns in another one of her stellar performances and Morgan Turner scares the daylights out of you. After I saw it I walked out saying “I’m glad I don’t have a child.” I didn't really say that, but for one moment I thought it. Guy Pearce is, as always, superb. He gives another refined and impeccable performance in his growing entourage of interesting characters. The film evokes the era beautifully. Cinematography, set design/art direction are all flawless.
Mildred makes it big with a series of restaurants and a pie-making business, but her life is pulled down by life’s obstacles and in this case some very big obstacles. Needless to say, this is a film worth viewing. I am looking forward to the March 27 premiere.