Blu-ray Review: Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce Blu-ray STUDIO: HBO/Warner | DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes | CAST: Kate Winslet, Morgan Turner, Evan Rachel Wood, Guy Pearce, Brian F. O’Byrne, Melissa Leo, James LeGros
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 1/3/2012 | PRICE: DVD $39.98, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $49.98
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes, more
SPECS: rating | 341 min. | Drama | 1.78:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Castilian, Finnish, Norwegian and Finnish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The nearly six-hour HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce, is a far richer and more faithful adaptation of James Cain’s 1941 novel than the famed 1945 film version by Michael Curtiz, that starred Joan Crawford in the title role (for which she won a Best Actress Oscar).

Mildred Pierce scene

Kate Winslet (r.) comforts daughter Evan Rachel Wood in Mildred Pierce.

Directed by Todd Haynes (Poison), the melodramatic mini-series trains its eye on the adult life of the Depression-era woman of its title (played by Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), a So-Cal housewife who divorces her husband and embarks on a decade of hard work to ultimately transform herself into the successful owner of a chain of restaurants. She does this not just for herself, but for the betterment of her children, namely her daughter Veda (played by Mercy‘s Morgan Turner and, in her later years, by The Conspirator‘s Evan Rachel Wood).

The aforementioned melodrama comes in the form of the ups and downs that Mildred must endure, from unemployment to sexual frustration to the temptations and troubles that accompany the dashing but moneyless former upper cruster Monte (Guy Pearce, The Road), to the even the greater pain brought on by the increasingly mean-spirited Veda. It’s no wonder that it all ends in murder … but who exactly is the killer?

Nominated for nearly two dozen Emmy Awards (and winning five, including an actress statuette for Winslet), Mildred Pierce is impeccably directed, splendidly acted and decorously detailed. Though it has a far better command of its pace than the TV miniseries novel adaptations of the 70s and 80s (many of them were also period pieces), Mildred Pierce still delivers the peaks and valleys that we’ve come to associate with those longform entertainments of decades past. And it’s that sense of timing — along with the thesping and superlative production values — that modulates the viewing experience and keeps your eye on what’s unfolding on the screen.

The video and audio quality of the Blu-ray are excellent, particularly the visuals. The work of cinematographer Ed Lachman is transferred in sterling fashion, offering the kind of textured look (grain included!) that one associates with much older movies. As Lachman and Haynes discuss in a bonus featurette, it’s a very deliberate visual approach in the style of the beloved movies of the 1970s as directed by such filmmakers as Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men) and Robert Altman (McCabe and Mrs. Miller).

And speaking of the Blu-ray’s bonus features, the commentary tracks on episodes 3 and 4 are the best entries in the package’s supplemental collection. Haynes, who contributed an outstanding chat track to the Velvet Goldmine Blu-ray, is once again on his game here. Joined by production designer Mark Friedberg and co-screenwriter Jon Raymond, Haynes covers just about everything you’d want to know about the lengthy production, beginning with the screenplay adaptation and pre-production, up through the lengthy, logistically challenging shoot and editing process. And all three gentlemen sound like they’re having a great time as they discuss their painstakingly detailed film.

The other bonuses, which include a featurette that was seen on HBO at the time of Mildred’s airing and a quintet of never-before-seen introductions to each installment, are also entertaining and informative.

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.