Revolutionary RoadThursday 29 Jan 2009
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Shannon, David Harbour and Dylan Baker.
Duration: 119 minutes
Based on Richard Yates' similarly bleak 1961 novel, 'Revolutionary Road' is a brutal depiction of a young married couple trapped in the claustrophobic suburbia of 1950s America.
The couple in question are the bright and handsome Wheelers, who have subscribed to the suburban lifestyle - two kids, a pretty home and a shiny car in the driveway.
But they believe that they are capable of more. April (Winslet) is an aspiring actress whose creativity is being stifled in local amateur productions. Frank (DiCaprio) has never quite figured out where his talents lie - he just knows he possesses "exceptional merit" that is being wasted.
Frank works in an undemanding city job which sees him meld seamlessly into the sea of suits each day while April plays the perfect housewife. As the mindless conformity of their lives wears them down, they take out their frustration and lack of fulfilment on one another, and their marriage begins to disintegrate.
In an effort to save them from this humdrum lifestyle, April decides their only option is to move to Paris, where she will work as an secretary and support the family while Frank 'finds himself'.
Even as they inform their closest friends Shep (Harbour) and Milly Campbell (Hahn) of their imminent departure, there is a sinking feeling that this is just another pipe dream.
Frank blags his way to a promotion and raise at the firm where he has been slogging away uninspiringly for the past years. And when April becomes pregnant this is another nail in the coffin of their Parisian dream. What follows is gut-wrenchingly painful as their marriage falls apart at the seams.
Director Sam Mendes is unflinching in his depiction of the self-destructive Wheelers and their vicious arguing, inspiring impassioned performances from DiCaprio and Winslet. Frank Wheeler is at times vain, pretentious, irate and frustrated while April is brittle, strong and prone to wild mood swings.
The supporting roles are equally strong; Kathy Bates is excellent as Helen Givings, the nosy neighbour with a shrill, nervous disposition. But it is Michael Shannon who steals the show as her mentally ill son John, a former mathematician who has undergone electric shock treatment in a psychiatric hospital. He has been nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for his role, portraying the jittery and brutally honest man with devastating insight.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins does an expert job of capturing the look and feel of 1950s Connecticut, while costume designer Albert Wolsky goes to town on April Wheeler's understated but stylish closet. Although it could be faulted for being repetitive, the very monotony of Thomas Newman score underlines the brutally crushing world the Wheelers inhabit.
The film is a classy and well put together affair, is faithful to the book and looks great. However, while it manages to put across the feeling of malaise and frustration implicit in the Wheelers' lives, there is a certain subtlety and nuances that it just cannot capture. Aspects of Frank's actions, such as his shortlived affair with a secretary at work, are not fully explained, while April's backstory has been truncated too.
So much of the book goes on inside the main characters' heads that a film adaptation was always going to be difficult. Sam Mendes does a fine job of bringing to life the sad lives of the Wheelers, however there are some things that could never quite be captured from Richard Yates' stunningly observant and cutting novel.