Jane Firehorse’s review published on Letterboxd:
"carol" is a beautiful movie, with rich and meaningful cinematography. the art design is faithful, taking viewers back in time in a "real" way, without the self-reflexive approach of "far from heaven," another haynes' film that deals with thwarted desire.
the careful frame compositions in "carol" repeatedly give us half glimpses of the two main characters, carol and therese; we see them behind partitions, through crowds, inside vehicles, and through glass, symbolically suggesting how they must hide their growing feelings for one another, that they're unable to show "the love that dare not speak its name". their love is blocked at every turn. we *see* their longing made manifest in the shots, but only sometimes do we *feel* it too.
indeed, while i admire haynes' visual work as a director, there's often a slight distance in his films: they're aesthetically stunning and yet affectively aloof. i find this to be the case with "carol," too.
rooney mara's performance as therese is the more nuanced and compelling of the two. cate blanchett's titular carol doesn't seem to have the same impact; she exhibits more complexity, and evokes more emotion and empathy, in her role for "blue jasmine" in my opinion. carol is too cool, too remote, a product of her era.
with that in mind, one might wonder whether haynes intended for carol to have this aloofness as a way of reflecting the repressive time period? certainly it's possible. however, it seems to be evident in much of his oeuvre, which suggests that it's more of a trait in his work rather than a deliberate intention.
luckily, there are some moments in "carol" when the emotions break through, which makes the central relationship identifiable. but overall, the characters feel inaccessible. i do really like sarah paulson's work here, though, and i wonder why she didn't receive more recognition? she's a persistently underrated actress. (go watch her in "martha marcy may marlene" or "12 years a slave" and you'll see what i mean.)
for me, haynes' work on "safe" remains his most moving or devastating, not to mention that julianne moore's performance in that film is probably the best he's ever directed.
i really enjoyed "carol" (and went back and forth on 3.5 or 4 stars) but ultimately i wasn't carried away by it. at some point i'll revisit this lovingly-crafted, 1950s america in order to see if the warmth of the visuals transmutes into the lives of haynes' characters.