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Revolutionary Road (2008) ***1/2

July 12, 2009

 

 

written by: Justin Haythe (from a novel by Richard Yates)

produced by: Bobby Cohen, John Hart, Sam Mendes & Scott Rudin

directed by: Sam Mendes

Rated R (for language and some sexual content/nudity)

119 min.

U. S. release date: December 26, 2008 (limited) & January 23, 2009 (wide)

DVD & Blu-Ray release date: June 2, 2009.

Here is an emotionally brutal film with smart actors, that shows the way average lives go bust. Could be cuz they are just that….average. Yet they strive for more. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio star as April and Frank, a 1950’s couple who have seen their dreams and their love fade, and who fight and kick against their own fears that it’s all going to go away by tearing one another apart. Adapted by the 1961 Richard Yates novel, the film was directed by Sam Mendes, who after “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition” is now officially obsessed with dissecting family.

Like so many adaptations, I cam to the conclusion that the book must be better. While I haven’t read it, I simply have to imagine that there was more to April and Frank than what I saw here. I was left with as many unanswered questions about these characters as they were about each other and themselves. That’s the idea. These two never belonged together. It’s clear that there was never any real friendship between them. Mendes never shows us any real passion in their relationship not to mention any type of parental nurturing. They have two children but that are barely shown. Once again. all deliberate. They are married for reasons unknown, and they are merely hanging around until one of them has the guts to admit the truth.

No doubt, it’s a compelling story and one that will surprise those who are looking for a “Jack & Rose” repeat. Which is something I appreciate about Winslet and DiCaprio. They know reteaming will be a big deal to fans, so they take on rolls that are hard to stomach yet they are real. The cast surrounding the doomed duo frames them well as they all come across like everything is idealic, except for Michael Shannon’s “troubled” character. He turns to have the difficult part, and it would have been easy for the actor to slip into the grotesque. In his two scenes, he represents the counterpoint to the life of conformity that threatens to swallow Frank and April. He’s the only one who understands what they are seeking, who sees what Frank calls the “emptiness and hopelessness” of their lives. He’s also not afraid to say what is on his mind, knowing that since he is considered crazy, he will mostly be ignored. Yet, in an insane world, the crazy man is the only one who sees the truth.

 

 

Both leads give powerful performances here yet at times it felt like both them were acting. Granted they are hard and challenging roles to sell. There’s a variety of emotions swirling between the two of them and for the most part they both wind up saving the film from becoming to operatic. Mendes delivers a realized and specified study of personal decline which becomes universal. While it is a period piece, it’s also quite timeless. Societal and familial expectations didn’t end in America in the 50’s. Unfortunately, they still exist today. Go to school. Get good grades. Go to college. Get good grades. Find a suitable spouse. Get married. Get a great job, maybe a great house. Have kids. Experience bliss. Yes, that formula still exists today and clearly that’s not for everyone. That formula can work if the individuals have more going on for them then just these motions.

The best part of the film is the writing and again I dunno if that’s due to Yates or screenwriter Justin Haythe. However it works, the joint effort between them is a perfect match. The dialogue manages to have style without being phony, and in each scene, in every relentless argument between this young couple, the script finds the nasty core without using manipulative tricks or forcing the material to go there. It’s about as honest a portrayal of the bleak landscape of a failed union as you are ever likely to see. Mendes hangs back and lets the actors work the words and the words work them as well as the viewer.
 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. april t permalink
    March 31, 2010 2:29 pm

    sadly, i agree.

    another film where the trailer basically IS the film. 🙁

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      March 31, 2010 3:16 pm

      Well, I wouldn’t go that far. The performances alone are worthy enough to see it. The trailer doesn’t (nor should it) reveal how well-crafted the actors are here.

  2. Francesca Carboni Perry permalink
    March 31, 2010 6:01 pm

    Your review has helped me clarify some things that I have been thinking about since I saw this last night. It is exactly that lack of friendship between them that is so damning. To me, they were a couple drawn to each other by what they saw as the non-conformist in each other – and how they thought they were so ‘special’ What they didn’t seem to realise was that they weren’t special at all; I imagine a lot of people start out thinking ‘ Oh, I’m not getting stuck on that treadmill, I’m not going to turn into my parents’ etc etc but actually what happens is that of course they have to earn money, live somewhere, children come along and in that process they grow and mature emotionally together, accept that what they have is right for them and yes as you say, have things going on for them that amplify and fulfill their lives.
    The problems in marriages often start when there is an inequality in that growth into emotional maturity – April and Frank just didn’t mature emotionally together – if at all. Frank was not a non conformist at all, he was an under-achiever who was frightened of failure, but not of success, provided he didn’t have to try for it. The moment he became valued at work, he changed completely. The foundation of their union was built on a false premise and that together with their lack of real empathy doomed their relationship to failure.
    Your point about Winslet and DiCaprio seeming to act has real resonance for me, although maybe not in the way you meant. I saw them as actors playing the roles of two people also acting, a sort of theatre within a film. Full praise to both of them, I agree. Praise to Mendes also for his skill in deliberately not spelling everything out – it’s nice to be treated like an adult sometimes at the movies!

  3. Eve permalink
    April 1, 2010 7:44 pm

    You are so right that the movie portrays a couple that should never have been together in the first place. It’s very uncomfortable to watch their interactions. I may have been longing for Titanic love with these 2–which is why I disliked it so much!

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      April 2, 2010 8:16 am

      Yes, it’s very uncomfortable cuz sadly, it feels real. We all know people like April and Frank. Regardless of the time frame, theirs is the kind of relationship that always exits. Could be your friends and neighbors and you don’t even know it. See, I had no idea that viewers where so attached to Jack & Rose that it affected the viewing this film but I hear that a lot.

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