What can you say in a few words about a five-hour HBO miniseries adapted from James M. Cain’s landmark 1941 novel that follows the rise and fall of an independent Los Angeles woman during the Great Depression? Let’s try “perfection,” which is what director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) achieves in his loyal, lyrical adaptation. Apply “magnificent” to the tour de force Kate Winslet delivers in the title role, a divorced mother who climbs from waitress to tycoon. Joan Crawford won her only Oscar playing Mildred in the 1945 film version. But Haynes and co-writer Jon Raymond hunt bigger game by dropping the murder plot to re-create a time and place that uncannily reflect our own.
The acting is as good as it gets. As Mildred’s daughter Veda, born with musical talent but no soul, Evan Rachel Wood is scary fine, as is Morgan Turner as the younger Veda. Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham shine as Mildred’s female allies. And Brian F. O’Byrne, James LeGros and the amazing Guy Pearce play the men Mildred substitutes for the love she craves from Veda. This is classic filmmaking.