Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as April and Frank Wheeler in Sam Mendes' new
film "Revolutionary Road". (Photo: Francois Duhamel)
THE POPCORN REEL FILM REVIEW/"Revolutionary Road"
In 1950's Suburban America: A Marriage
Where One And One Doesn't Always Equal Two
Omar P.L. Moore/January 2, 2009
It's been more than 11 years since Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's onscreen
characters defied convention and class boundaries in the multiple-Oscar winning
"Titanic", and in Sam Mendes' new film "Revolutionary Road" (expanding today in
San Francisco and other U.S. cities while continuing its theatrical run in New
York City and Los Angeles), the pair attempt to break from the yolk of
expectation in their married life in 1950's suburban America as a beautiful and
cantankerous Connecticut couple whose bickering abates when April suggests Paris as a means
for escape from the daily banality of a homogeneous landscape and existence that
has heretofore suffocated them. Frank is agreeable to April's Disney
Wonderland-sounding adventure proposal: ditch the housewife routine, quit the
breadwinner job at a machine sales company, scoop up the two kids and jettison
Eisenhower's America for De Gaulle's France.
Sounds innocent enough, no?
The Wheelers' neighbors The Campbells (played by David Harbour and Kathyrn Hahn) think they are off their rockers,
as do Frank's work
colleagues (Dylan Baker and Keith Reddin) and perhaps his boss (Jay O. Sanders). But what do
Frank and April really think about the idea of leaving America behind?
In his films Sam Mendes has always dealt with the melancholy and doom lurking
just beneath the surface of America. The Oscar-winning "American Beauty"
turned the beauty of America inside out with a lacerating and
bullying satire of contemporary American life; "The Road To Perdition" shredded an
American-as-apple-pie image of Tom Hanks, who played a cold-blooded killer whose
kills are artfully photographed by a 1930's Annie Leibowitz-type whose photos are an inverted statement and an indictment of America's romanticism
of glamour and violence; "Jarhead" was an unromanticized journey of one man's
descent into the inferno of war. With "Revolutionary Road" Ms. Winslet's husband
manages to make a watchable film, though the discomfort factor can't help but
rear its head. Based on Richard Yates' much-talked about novel of the same
name, and adapted for the screen by Justin Haythe, "Revolutionary Road" tracks
the complexities of marriage and what happens, as Paul Laurence Dunbar would say, to a dream deferred. Do time and
circumstance dictate the ability to achieve true freedom or are society's rules
and conformities (especially in highly conservative 1950's America) the
enemy of the Wheeler's adulthood ambitions?
April Wheeler may shed some light on answers to the above questions thanks to Kate Winslet's quietly powerful performance which will finally assure her Oscar
glory next month. Ms. Winslet had an excellent 2008 with
"The Reader" and with
"Revolutionary Road" (which arrived in New York and Los Angeles in late 2008,)
she cements herself as one of the world's best silver screen actresses.
Among her many talents Ms. Winslet knows how to seize a moment on film by
dramatizing it in a such an incidental way. The camera does the rest. The acting Kate Winslet
displays here is not dissimilar from her stunning work in the 2006 film
"Little Children", but the subtleties are far more pronounced. Here, Ms. Winslet hones silences into a fine art, embracing them with a fierce urgency
that is crystallized by a distant glare, the solitary language of the unyielding
defiance of a 1950's American housewife. There are at least three moments
in the film's second half where Ms. Winslet is on another acting plane from
everyone else, including the very good and soon-to-be Oscar nominated Michael Shannon ("Before The Devil Knows
You're Dead"), who plays John Givings, a mentally challenged man who says the most
inconvenient but truthful things that everyone else in the room is only
thinking. John is the 80,000-pound elephant in the room who spews the muck from
his metaphorical trunk and stains his previously-amused audience with it. He may be
ailed mentally but he has courage: the one thing the more able-minded folk
around him lack
Meanwhile, Mr. DiCaprio tries to get underneath Frank Wheeler but doesn't quite
succeed, for all his intensity. You can see him pouring everything he has
into the character of Frank, a somewhat passive-aggressive man who is awash in a
fantastical magic carpet ideal and cloaked in entitlement and
self-righteousness -- and is as shallow as his own craving soul -- but for whatever
reason Mr. DiCaprio isn't as nuanced as the story's complex landscape demands.
Maybe he isn't supposed to be though, and that may well be the overall point the
film is making about Frank as a being trapped in his own longing and isolation,
not unlike his wife. As a film "Revolutionary Road", for those who haven't
read Mr. Yates' book (myself included), offers sharp turns and descents into
perilous terrain with that "husband and wife stuff", a line that Ashley Judd's character
curtly threw at Robert De Niro's in "Heat" (1995). That "stuff" is the
best thing about Mr. Mendes' film, which aside from its
gripping and jarring episodes of tension and discovery, is an otherwise mundane
With: Kathy Bates and Richard Easton as Helen and Howard Givings, and Zoe
Kazan as Maureen Grube.
"Revolutionary Road" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for
some language and sexual content/nudity. The film's duration is one hour
and 59 minutes. Released by Paramount Vantage. "Reservation Road"
further expands its release in the U.S. and in Canada on January 9, 16 and 23, as
well as around the globe.
Related: Kate And Leo, Together Again In Rebellion
Related: "Revolutionary Road" photo
gallery - photos by Francois Duhamel
Related: Kate Winslet and
Awards Season 2009
Related: The Popcorn Reel Hot Minute YouTube
Review of "Revolutionary Road"
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