Revolutionary Road Directed by: Sam Mendes Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon Running Time: 2 hrs Rating: R
Plot: A married couple (DiCaprio and Winslet) with two children try to survive the banal suburban life of the 1950's.
Who’s It For? We are all invited to experience the powerful story by Richard Yates, as envisioned by director Sam Mendes and presented by the incredible chemistry of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. But considering all of this, it's obvious that Revolutionary Road has little shame in packaging itself specifically for one shiny man named Oscar.
Expectations: A boring, one line synopsis I had read for the film intrigued me to no end. How would the chemistry between DiCaprio and Winslet create an absorbing dramatic imbalance in a simple setting that has been predominantly presented by Hollywood as perfect?
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Wheeler: Husband Frank is the 9-to-5 worker whose job isn't any more extraordinary than his daily suit and tie attire. Like his wife April, he has sacrificed his own paths in life to maintain comfy suburban domesticity - but such a repression only adds to his own dysfunction. DiCaprio plays this robotic character well, with a calmness unusual to his recent resume (considering his volcanic performance in this year's Body Of Lies). While periodic marital arguments allow Leo to erupt with rage, this role is generally peaceful. Also, more so than his other characters, the dominating male that is Frank allows DiCaprio to be a bit of a sly jerk, especially when "conversing" with his secretary. Score: 8
Kate Winslet as April Wheeler: Though her character is a housewife whose universal priorities are second to those of her husband, Winslet is able to equal DiCaprio's intensity in all acting arenas, especially argumentative and passionate moments. When not confronting Frank, her performance is generally and effectively reticent, especially for the English actress' disappearance into the part of 1950's American housewife. Winslet truly starts to achieve Oscar-friendly grandness when she is able to transform April's pacified docility into a disturbing numbness. Score: 9
Kathy Bates as Mrs. Helen Givings: Bates' character is as authentic to the era as the word "swell." She's peppy and pleasantly hunky-dory, creating a great illusion of the future (or hell) that lies ahead for April. Her understated character is seemingly useless, but in retrospective is greatly important to the film's questioned reality of both marriage and suburban life. Basically, Mrs. Helen Givings is an immediate symbol of the film, which explains why the simple end to Revolutionary Road is incredibly effective. Score: 8
Michael Shannon as John Givings: Similar to Jackie Earle Haley's performance in Little Children, Shannon tornadoes into the story and makes every scene his own. Significantly opposite to his mother, Mrs. Givings, his presence is abrasive, especially when his "psychopathic" tangents unearth the true dissonance of the supposedly harmonic Wheelers. Like other films with this level of dysfunction, Shannon's character is the ironic sane person, despite his diagnosis of being mentally unstable. Score: 8
Talking: The dialogue is solid, with its great usage of timely vernacular without the cheeky handling of other 50's based films like like Pleasantville. Dialogue such as "this is a cracker jack!", and "I must scoot" authenticate the film but never cheese it up. Score: 8
Sights: Another film by cinematographer Roger Deakins with beautiful cinematography. The camera has obsessive framing that constantly puts the character of focus in the middle of the screen, often surrounded by imagery representative of the oppressive conventionality that haunts April and Frank. Score: 9
Sounds: Thomas Newman's score is similar and almost as magnificent as the work he did for Mendes' American Beauty. His choice of layering atmospheric on top of simple resonating pianos still proves effective tonally. Emotionally complimentary to Newman's score is the film's soundtrack, which implicates nostalgic songs by artists like Glenn Miller at precisely the correct moment. For example, The Ink Spots' "The Gypsy", (heard in the opening scene where a young April and Frank first meet), couldn't have been placed any better. Score: 8
Revolutionary Road is a beautiful portrait of relationships, particularly those set in vanilla suburbia. As with his masterpiece American Beauty, director Sam Mendes continues to be intrigued by both the text and subtext of rural characters and the essences of reality that constantly elude them. Though not as remarkable as his Best Picture-winning debut, Road is powerful in its subtlety, confident in the pacing that it weighs on fascinating characters (which are created by notable performances) and intriguing themes. Deakins' cinematography, which is just as important to the film as its marquee-dominating cast, adds to the film's (American) beauty.
Despite the film's greatness, it is an audacious one-way Road to Oscar gold. Considering its characters, (oppressed housewife, imprisoned husband, and even obtuse supporting madman), along with story components (it's not too far off from feeling like an American Beauty prequel), the film seemed engineered for awards right at its Hollywood-based conception. Though this is one of the year's best, it would be disappointing if it were to win Best Picture - defeating films comparably Revolutionary to their time like Mendes' 1999 work of art had once been.
Final Score: 9/10