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Movie Review: Revolutionary Road

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Revolutionary Road reunites Titanic co-stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio after more than ten years. But neither of these performers have let fame go to their heads, always managing to disappear into whatever characters they may be playing.

And this may just have been the perfect movie to show off their extraordinary acting talent with its lengthy sections of dialogue and opportunities to explode with portrayals of deep human emotion. Under the direction of Winslet's husband Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road is an expertly executed drama about suburban life and a marriage in desperate crisis.

Based on the novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road tells the story of a young couple living in suburban Connecticut during the 1950s. It deals with their personal problems of love, work, family life, and raising their two children.

Ever since the match-up of Winslet and DiCaprio in 1997's Titanic, film fans everywhere have been yearning to see the two on screen again. It's kind of strange that it hasn't happened in some form until now since it's evident by this film that the chemistry they had in Titanic wasn't a fluke. They are perfect for the roles of April and Frank Wheeler, two young people in love who all too quickly find themselves living in one of a row of almost identical houses in suburbia, basically being "just like everyone else." This is one of the central issues of the film: both Frank and April, in their own unique and opposite ways, feel trapped in this resigned life. "Who made these rules, anyway?" spouts April, desperately wanting something different than what they have (she comes up with the idea of moving to Paris). This is wholly human stuff, dealing with problems that occur in real life instead of the superficiality often seen in movies today.

What's most fascinating about the film is its meticulous dissection of a seemingly perfect marriage — they have two great kids yet April at one point lets it slip she feels they are a burden of sorts to her; the couple look like they're perfect for one another and yet they conflict in many different ways. The film teeters on the edge of emotional explosion almost constantly as issues and problems bubble their way to the surface. In the scenes of heated arguments, of which there are a few, Winslet and DiCaprio are simply stunning. It takes a special kind of acting talent to make characters and scenes like this believable, and in this regard Revolutionary Road is utterly convincing.

Although he only has two scenes, a special mention must go to the exceptional performance of Michael Shannon. He plays the mentally ill son of one of the Wheelers' neighbours (played brilliantly by Kathy Bates) and almost steals the show from the two leads. Although Shannon's scenes are perhaps a little staged in nature, they are nonetheless two of the highlights of the entire film. He seems to be the only character who truly knows what April and Frank are talking about when they say they want to get out of this life. But he also, in his second scene, turns out to be the bearer of "painful because they're true" questions and inquiries. He's a character that holds up a proverbial mirror to the Wheelers, making them in turn reflect on the state of their marriage. It's a stunning performance worthy of the Oscar nomination Shannon garnered for it.

Director Sam Mendes is no stranger to the exploration of American suburban life. With his award-winning masterpiece American Beauty he tackled how one man wasn't going to let his secluded trap rule his life any longer, with all the supporting players in his life feeling the affect of his resistance. But as serious as some of the core issues of that film were there was always a vein of satire, and sometimes full blown humour, running through it that made it not only a deeply affecting film but an often purely enjoyable one too. But with Revolutionary Road Mendes has severed the vein of humour — this is deadly serious stuff. Even in scenes of day-to-day routine for both husband and wife you can always feel an undercurrent of tension and emotion. It's a masterfully handled example of multi-layered cinema.

In the culture of the '50s, from the outside looking in, this marriage met expectations; the husband earns the money while the wife stays home, they have kids, an immaculate house with a white picket fence and flowers in the garden, a steady income and a daily routine — the perfect suburban life, it would seem. But in an era where divorce was much less common than it is now, the couple's eventual refusal to simply "work things out" and move on for the sake of preserving the peace is fascinating to watch. If there are problems to be sorted out they will be, but not without the necessary explosions of emotion it most often takes.

April's idea and dream of moving to Paris is something Frank finds "unrealistic" and "childish". But to please his hopeful wife he conforms to what she wants. But the trouble is Frank is much more of a realist than his wife, her being the dreamer of the two. He realises that with the life they've settled into it's not possible to just up sticks and go, leaving jobs, a mortgage, and ultimately a life, that they've committed to. But the film never plays it quite as simple as "you can't do that," but rather "truly think about it first". Did Frank and April get married and settle down into suburban life because that's what they truly wanted or was is because of the expectations of the era? The exploration of this through the guise of a marriage in crisis starts off, and is consistently fascinating but by the end is utterly devastating viewing.

Revolutionary Road is a raw examination of American suburban life that's both believable and engrossing. The cinematography by Roger Deakins gives the film a certain claustrophobic quality, even in scenes taking place out in the open, and Thomas Newman's score is sublimely subtle. But above all it's the expert direction by Mendes, and the powerful performances of Winslet and DiCaprio (the latter seems to be getting unjustly snubbed by the various Award organisations) that makes this simply stunning viewing. The ending of the film is perhaps the best to grace the screen in several months. It sends you away with a meaningful, poignant message — that life isn't as simple and perfect as those white picket fences may suggest.

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  • Jordan Richardson

    Bested only by Let the Right One In, this is my favourite film of 2008. I was absolutely staggered by every moment of this movie. The performances are spot-on, with DiCaprio turning in one of his best ever. Easily Mendes’ best picture, too.

    I couldn’t get over the incredible breakfast sequence towards the end of the movie. That scene alone haunted me for the next few days after witnessing it.

  • Helen

    Kate is looking better every day. I read here (www.projectweightloss.com) about her anti-pressure diet and , wow, that’s like an universal tool to relax, isn’t it?

  • tim

    This movie isn’t only about suburban conformity.

    Those old enough to remember the 1970’s will recall the novel The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French, which looked at a very similar scenario – the slow, soul-sucking death of the 1950’s housewife. The Women’s Room pointed the finger at sexism, which I find more convincing than the explanation that April is simply a ‘disappointed dreamer’. Characters such as April were real enough for that time period, but have largely disappeared from our present life. A movie about a contemporary woman ostensibly trapped in the suburbs would be quite different, and that’s not because suburbs are less conformist than they were in the ’50s, as much as the change in women’s options.