Revolutionary Road ****
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Justin Haythe, based on the novel by Richard Yates
Kate Winslet as April Wheeler
Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Wheeler
Michael Shannon as John Givings
Kathy Bates as Helen Givings
Kathryn Hahn as Milly Campbell
Zoe Kazan as Maureen Grube
Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
"Revolutionary Road" is a close examination of a relationship-its ups, its downs (which are predominate over the two), its origins, and lastly its completion, which comes about in a most unexpected way. It is also yet another critic of the role that suburbia plays in their downfall, the type of in depth look that make Sam Mendes famous in the first place with "American Beauty." And its one of the best movies of the year, a powerful drama that is stunningly acted by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, making their first appearance together since the mega-blockbuster in 1997 "Titantic." The major difference being that in the last ten years they have really learned a lot about acting.
The two play the Wheelers-Frank and April-who met each other at a party and never left each other since. April was attracted to Frank's worldliness, and his desires to leave this place and move to Paris, where "they know how to live." But their marriage, brought on by April getting pregnant, ends up becoming an act of conformity, as the pair move into a suburban location on Revolutionary Road and become just like everyone else. But they still attract the various neighbors, who seem to believe that they are something special. Especially Helen Givings, played by Kathy Bates, who oddly enough was also in "Titantic" with the other two, who asks April to talk to her son John, who was just release from a mental asylum, as they seem like special intellectuals that John would enjoy speaking to. And then there are April and Frank's couple friends, the Campbell's, who on the outside seem to have the perfect marriage, but if one digs deeper they will find that is not the case. When April begins to resurface Frank's dreams about France, it ignites a spiral downward that will test their marriage harder than its ever been before.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career. Being an actor who I only really like when he does not realistic roles, as opposed to the more angry and fast talking characters of "Body of Lies" or even "Blood Diamond," he really is able to craft a performance full of depth as Frank whose dreams seem to all have vanished under his feet. Watching the internal conflict as he debates if he should go off with April to the more innocent lifestyle he had planned for them at the beginning, or if he should adapt to his job where he has a very high chance of advancing is riveting. Kate Winslet, who is an actress that emotes with the most subtle facial reactions, as I gushed about in my analysis for "The Reader," is very powerful as the confused April. The tragic fight scenes between the two border on the intense, and are the centerpiece for this bleak and dreary relationship.And the two of them are almost trumped in two amazing scenes with Michael Shannon, who plays the almost psychotic John Givings, and a scene where he dissects their marriage is riveting and should warrant acclaim for Michael Shannon that for some reason he is not getting.
For themes of suburban strike, Sam Mendes is attempting to revisit his own success with "American Beauty," but focuses more on how it destroys this one relationship instead of making a mosaic of families in the area. He may not have the genius of Alan Ball at his side again, but he does have a very good script by Justin Haythe, which really examines this couple to the extreme. There are hints of how surburbia affects several couples, the Campbell's most of all, but also the Givings who seem like a couple numb to deterioration, but a very telling scene at the end proves otherwise, as well as providing a welcome bit of comedy after a very intense twenty minutes prior. The calming, yet haunting, score of Thomas Newman (another genius in his own right) provides a stunning backdrop for everything. He is another one of those people that does not seem to get the amount of credit that he deserves, and after so many great scores he is forced to revisit some of his previous themes, but adding an extra twist to them. And lastly, the great Roger Deakins abandoned work with the Coen Brothers to work on this, and his generally cream colored images provide a warming comfort to the real secrets that lay within the walls of these houses.
"Revolutionary Road" goes into many different routes to get to its tragc climax, and as depressing and hopeless and bleak as it is, its still an amazing perspective into the end of a relationship, with the only real shred of happiness being at the very beginning, when Frank and April are allowed to dream of their future. I don't think Mendes is saying surburbia is at fault, or conformity, but simply that April and Frank's happiness exist in a period of youthful innocence, and they were not meant to be together forever, but simply at that one stage in both of their lives. And everything else was simply prolonging the inevitable.