Carol; Steve Jobs; Black Mass; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 and more – review

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara burn with desire, while Michael Fassbender and Johnny Depp make a pair of cold fish

There tends to be something unromantic about fastidiousness: it’s hard to have your breath taken away when you’re counting every one. That’s one of many rules subtly broken by Todd Haynes’s suitably gasp-inducing Carol (Studiocanal, 15), a love story that loses not a flutter of spontaneous feeling for being constructed with such detail-fixated beauty. In visualising Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt – with invaluable prompting from Phyllis Nagy’s elegantly filleted screenplay – Haynes may have just given the cinema its quintessential story of gay self-realisation. As Rooney Mara’s easily awed city shopgirl falls hard and headlong for Cate Blanchett’s suburban society dame in the velvet-lined repression cooker of 1950s New York, it’s not just sexuality that she discovers, but something even more essential: an unprecedented sense of how to be.

“Coming of age” is a term automatically assigned to adolescent stories, yet it applies to Therese and Carol’s romance too: across generations, both women come to reflect each other’s knowledge and naivety. Haynes, meanwhile, has designed the misty whirl of their love to the nth degree, from the faded candy hues of Ed Lachman’s 16mm photography to the low, swooning strings of Carter Burwell’s score. Some have called the film over-aestheticised, yet such reckless beauty ideally matches the perspective of one whose world has blushed into life for the first time. Carol is a film made with uncanny sensual awareness of what falling in love feels, sounds and tastes like, and so it inspires devotion of its own.

Watch a clip from Steve Jobs

A colder streak of passion runs through Steve Jobs (Universal, 15), Danny Boyle’s clinically symphonic study of the Apple genius, in which the urge to invent – call it a kind of technolust – trumps all human desire. Aaron Sorkin’s clever, contrived script crams all the man’s professional triumphs and personal failings into a spinning, whirring, three-act structure built on Jobs’s key product launches: 1984’s Macintosh, 1990’s NeXTcube and 1998’s iMac. Michael Fassbender plays Jobs with cool reptilian sinuousness, even as Sorkin’s writing – for all its technical elan – struggles to say much about Jobs beyond his being a prodigiously gifted arsehole. Maybe that’s the simple truth of it, though after two biopics in three years, I remain unconvinced that he was quite fascinating enough to merit such accomplished scrutiny as this.

Johnny Depp in Black Mass
‘Shivery, passive-aggressive’... Johnny Depp in dress-up mode as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros.

Whitey Bulger is a tangier biopic subject. A murderous blue-collar Boston mob boss turned FBI informant, his is the kind of inverted moral downfall that could be pulled from prime American crime cinema. Indeed, Scott Cooper’s Black Mass (Warner, 15) deftly emulates Scorsese’s heavily salted sense of local colour and Cadillac-wide underworld outlook, but has little attitude (and even less humour) of its own. Hidden behind husky-dog contacts and balding prosthetics, Johnny Depp is in his favoured dress-up mode as Bulger, albeit to more shivery, passive-aggressive effect than usual. He’s in good form, but still somehow loses the film to more spontaneous, less constructed performers, as wild, writhing victims of Bulger’s influence Peter Sarsgaard and Juno Temple carry the go-for-broke swagger that Cooper’s film only handsomely imitates.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen with ‘steel-spined humanity’.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen with ‘steel-spined humanity’. Photograph: Murray Close/PR company handout

Katniss Everdeen wouldn’t have feared Whitey Bulger. By the series-closing sprint of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Lionsgate, 12) – which delivers the Capitol-tumbling action teased by the previous entry’s dense political strategising – she fears very little indeed. That perhaps has an adverse effect on this fourth film’s dramatic shape, not that needlessly cleaving Suzanne Collins’s concluding novel in two helps in that department. Still, for its occasional clunkiness of form, what a muscular, idea-rich dystopian adventure this has been, and what paradoxically steel-spined humanity Jennifer Lawrence has given its every chapter.

Has any Pixar blockbuster ever been as swiftly forgotten as The Good Dinosaur (Disney, PG)? While even Cars 2 lived on in merchandise, the animation titans’ square, sentimental prehistoric ramble was overshadowed in its own year by the niftier mechanics of Inside Out. Its tale of interspecies friendship – neatly reversed to place humanity in the feral position – never quite took hold in the public imagination, but maybe it’ll find its place in family living rooms. There are certainly things to love here, beginning with the verdant, dew-splashed photorealism of the visuals. The character design is more naive, while the story likewise meshes innocent personal stakes with advanced environmental allegory.

Watch the trailer for 88:88

Moving on to matters several stratospheres further out there, has a fascinating premiere on its menu from 25-year-old Canadian experimental film-maker Isiah Medina. In 88:88, the passions, frustrations and political preoccupations of Medina’s digitally inclined generation are projected via a caffeinated collage of material in motion: observational video footage, dramatised sketches, poetry, hip-hop excerpts, all as jagged as if tuned with a radio dial. Late Godard seems a signal influence here, though Medina’s essay is one of discovery rather than reflection. Not all 88:88’s thoughts are quite as spiky as their presentation, but it’s quite a rush.


Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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