Revolutionary Road

Director    Sam Mendes
Starring    Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, Ryan Simpkins
Release    23 JAN (US) 30 JAN (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


3rd February 2009

Watching Revolutionary Road is a bit like eating sprouts - you know it's good for you and worth it in the long run, but it's a bit of an ordeal. You leave the cinema feeling rather hopeless and bleak. Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) Wheeler are the perfect couple - glamorous young newlyweds with two kids and a beautiful new home on Revolutionary Road. April had dreams of becoming an actress but after taking humiliating parts in second-rate plays, she settles into her new role of housewife. Frank, meanwhile, has followed in his father's footsteps, taking an office job with a New York firm, blending in amongst the sea of suits on the morning commute. It's a thoroughly beige existence.

Despite appearances, the Wheelers see themselves as different. They don't truly buy into the American suburban dream, they are simply playing house, going through the motions of dinner parties with the neighbours with an air of superiority. They have ideals and want to experience more from life. They decide to leave the claustrophobia of Revolutionary Road behind and start a new life in Paris. Amid a whirlwind of excitement and planning, Frank is offered a lucrative promotion at work which calls everything into question. The seismic cracks in their relationship start to become painfully apparent.

Revolutionary Road sees director Sam Mendes return to the familiar territory of suburban dystopia along the lines of his directorial debut American Beauty. It is set in the '50s and the same attention to period detail familiar to fans of Mad Men (chain smoking, casual chauvinism etc) is evident here. Some of the visual flair of American Beauty may be lacking but the use of colour is exquisite thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins, a frequent Coen Brothers collaborator.

The film has a strong supporting cast, notably Kathy Bates as local busybody Helen Givings, who takes a shine to the Wheelers. Helen's son John (Michael Shannon) plays a small but significant role in the movie. John resides in a mental institution undergoing electroshock therapy and Helen thinks it will do him good to befriend the dynamic young Wheelers. Through several excruciating scenes, John explodes the myth of American suburbia and breaks through its veneer. He utters truths Frank and April gradually become too afraid to speak - he acts as the film's seer. It is telling that the most honest character is condemned as insane and locked up to avoid offending the sensibilities of the beige crowd. The film does justice to Richard Yates' book by conveying the fear of non-conformity felt throughout McCarthy-era America.

While everyone is shocked at Winslet's Oscar snub for her performance in Revolutionary Road, the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio has been snubbed by every award panel around seems to have gone unnoticed. The problem with Leonardo DiCaprio is that he has the face of a twelve year-old boy, like in flash-forwards on The Simpsons when Lisa and Bart have child heads on grownup bodies. This means DiCaprio has to be twice as good as most actors to convey any sense of gravitas and convince an audience with his performance. In this case he succeeds; in fact, he nails it.

And yes, Kate Winslet is brilliant. April presents a wall of stoic silence in the face of Frank's verbose rage. Lingering close-ups allow Winslet to convey emotion through the slightest twitch of the face or glint of the eye. She is captivating and it is fascinating to watch April as she hurtles towards the inevitable. In fact Winslet is in danger of suffering from acute Meryl-Streep-syndrome, whereby she becomes so consistently brilliant it gets kind of dull. Perhaps she will pull a Mamma Mia-style surprise out of the bag some day and show us she can do 'fun' too.

More:  Drama  Oscars
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