January 20, 2009

Movie Review: Revolutionary Road

revolutionaryroad1_largeGoing in to see Revolutionary Road was something of a conflicted event. I knew I had to see it, I knew many were in awe of the performances, but I have to admit that the trailers seemed to be more than a bit dull. I was not sure why I would want to see this tale of domestic disintegration. Then some other thoughts came to mind. Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio are nothing if not dependable to turn in good to great performances. Then there is Sam Mendes, not my favorite director, but one who you can count on to turn in films with interesting characters that you want to spend time with, if not necessarily like (just look at films like American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Jarhead). So, in I went and look, I survived, none the worse for wear. What I discovered in that darkened theater was a compelling film that is definitely worth seeing, but will not want to revisit for a long time, if ever.

revolutionaryroadpic6Way back in 1997 Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet were coupled in romantic entanglements in Titanic, we all know how that ended. Not well. I am sure that many out there (although not me) have wondered just what could have happened had Jack survived his cold water dip and he got to live with Rose happily ever after. Now we know, and it is not pretty. Titanic romanticists can dive into this film and have their romantic flights of fancy ripped to shreds as the thin veil of romance and civility is torn away to reveal this subtle suburban hell. Sounds beautiful doesn't it?

Revolutionary Road begins with a meet/cute not unlike what you would find in a romance. A boy and a girl spy each other across the room, a sly smile indicating interest, followed by a conversation. The romancing bit is very brief, only serving to give a glimpse of what the two were like before they were together. In short order, the two are married and looking at a home in the suburbs outside of New York City. They carve out a nice slice of the American Dream, nice home, two kids, a wife to do housework, a husband to provide working in the city. It is what so many people want to do while dreaming of something bigger.

Frank (Leonardo Dicaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) are blinded by love for each other and the dreams of something more that before they realize it, they have hit the wall and are just another cog in the wheel, unhappy and resentful at each other as the veil is removed to reveal ugliness beneath.

revolutionaryroadpic7Frank goes to work every day at a job he hates, April stays at home longing for some true adult interaction other than the neighbors and the occasional visit from the realty lady (bringing Kathy Bates to the Titanic reunion). As their unhappiness blooms, they get the perfect idea, move to Paris! Perfect! She will work, he will search for his dreams, and all will be well, the perfect band aid to the ever increasing sham of a marriage they share.

Plans go awry, as they always do, when Frank is offered a promotion at work. He chooses to take the position. This further tightens the noose around their marriage as he tries to defend his position while we find she was attempting to manipulate things on her side of the coin. Nothing good can come of this.

There is a lot of shouting and arguing in Revolutionary Road, one may even think the fights are a little gratuitous. However, if you watch these characters develop and the true emotion that is invested in them through the performances, you will not be able to help but see the reality of these people and their situation as their lives begin to crumble around them. It is the disintegration of the American Dream and all of the anger that goes along with it.

revolutionaryroadpic5The movie is very play-like with limited cast and location, I could very much see this performed on the stage. That being the case, the smallish cast really steps up to the plate and delivers captivating performances that burn themselves into your brain. Believe it or not, this is more than just the Kate and Leo show, the supporting cast fill very necessary roles in the development of this reality. The neighbors, played by David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn, play as the perfect little reflections of the suburban couple, although even there there are cracks in the facade. Let us not forget Michael Shannon as John, the son of Kathy Bates realtor allowed brief visits outside of the asylum. No, John is not crazy, but he does have a knack for cutting through the bullshit and telling it just as it is. He definitely provides some laughter, nervous as it may be.

Yes, I guess when it comes right down to it, this movie is carried on the shoulders of Kate and Leo. These two are downright intense throughout and it is very hard to look away from them. I guess it helps that Sam Mendes has these relationship things down pat, he is not a terribly visual director, but he knows to make it authentic.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Justin Haythe and Richard Yates, the men responsible for the words we hear. The former penned the screenplay based on the latters' novel. The dialogue sparks and snaps with aggression, depression, and sadness that is hard to enjoy, yet drags you into suburbanite hell. Just hope this never happens to you.

Bottomline. Revolutionary Road is an unmatched experience. As much as I was captured and haunted by what unfolded on the screen, I cannot imagine drawing actual entertainment from it. That feels odd to type, considering this is a very good film. Still, I will not be revisiting this anytime soon.



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