Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Movie Review: Revolutionary Road

Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Justin Haythe (screenplay) Richard Yates (novel)
Tagline: How do you break free without breaking apart?

Kate Winslet - April Wheeler
Leonardo DiCaprio - Frank Wheeler
Michael Shannon - John Givings
Kathy Bates - Mrs. Helen Givings

I think most people can recall a time in their lives when everything was there for the taking. All you had to do was put up your sail, let the wind take you, and enjoy the ride. Inevitably that wind began to die down, though, and at some point your boat was grounded again.

Such is the way of life for many people who have failed to recognize a dream, perhaps due to lack of initiative, or, more likely, just due to life’s circumstances. Ultimately, the vast majority of people go on to achieve varying degrees of fulfillment from life – some realize their dreams, others do not.

And so we come to Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), the seemingly poster couple for the American Dream in 1950s suburbia living on Revolutionary Road. Frank is “in office machines” and commutes to the city every day along with throngs of body doubles all wearing nicely pressed suits and matching hats, blissfully aware that the hours they will spend at their desks have little or no relevance to anything important. April tends to the house chores and the children, taking out the garbage and dreaming of a time when she was passionate about anything, in her case, acting.

Anyone who has seen director Sam Mendes’ fabulous film American Beauty (1999) should have no trouble grasping what sort of dark material is going to be covered from the time we meet the starry eyed lovers to the moment we realize that not all is as it seems in this cut-out cross-section of life to which we play witness. The difference with that earlier work and this, however, is the depth of deep-seeded angst and, dare I say, hatred that these two characters are asked to exude to one another and to the audience, and who better than Winslet and DiCaprio, rekindling their on-screen chemistry of a decade ago on another boat that was heading to disaster?

I prefer not to get into too many specifics as this movie unwinds so wonderfully I wouldn’t want to ruin the slow progression of despair you are made to feel as you live the lives of these characters. Rather, I’d like to simply point out that this film is most likely, sadly, not too far from the truth for many people, if not to this drastic degree of solemnity. And in that regard it will hit home with a crushing blow to some who will undoubtedly seek to search out their own secrets and opportunities lost. This movie is not for the weak of stomach, nor for the weak of mind.

We get a very solid supporting role out of Kathy Bates as realtor and family friend Mrs. Helen Givings, who one day asks if the Wheeler’s wouldn’t mind having lunch with her husband and their son, John, who has been hospitalized as a mental patient. Michael Shannon delivers the role of the man who has been shocked so many times in his brain that he has all but forgotten how to do the complex math work he so used to love. It is his performance over the course of a few luncheons that drives home much of the central theme of the movie and ultimately leads to the Wheeler’s full self-understandings of themselves. Or, perhaps, simply their non-understanding.

What do people want out of life? Does an idyllic existence exist? And if so, can it be shared with someone else?

The answers may not be given in Revolutionary Road, but the journey to seeing what happens when things go wrong is an experience in itself.


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