I’m at a loss. I’m having trouble trying to understand why Sam Mendes’ new breathtaking film isn’t getting the credit it deserves. For two authentic hours, audiences intrude on the lives of April and Frank Wheeler, a well-to-do couple in 1950s Connecticut. Frank works in New York City at a job he hates marketing electronics. April stays at home, watching their two kids, becoming envious of the life she could have had.
April comes up with a plan to rejuvenate their lives and put a little spark back into their marriage. The plan (which I won’t reveal) sets in motion one hell of a tumultuous movie.
Mendes’ new film is similar to his first, American Beauty, in the way that it depicts a side of suburbia that we’ve never seen. But it’s different in the way that it depicts how a marriage can quickly, and steadily crumble. Frank and April engage in long, ferocious arguments that feel almost too real to watch. And there, I suppose, lies the problem for some people.
Based on Richard Yates’ famed novel, Revolutionary Road, isn’t for a faint heart. It slams its character’s problems right down your throat. If you want escapist film, you’d better look elsewhere. Having said that, this movie is an affecting triumph.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank, gives the best performance of his beautifully matured career. He’s long gone from that man-child he played on that giant boat with his costar. Frank is kind, dismissive, brutally angry and most of all, clueless. He has no idea what his wife likes, wants, or needs. He’s a mess of a man.
This really is Kate Winslet’s year. Her work in The Reader is astounding; unlike anything she’s ever done, and in Revolutionary Road, she excels even further. She stretches April’s emotions as far as any movie character this year. She’ll rack up two nominations this year in both female acting categories. I don’t know which one she’ll win but I say to hell with it, give her both. There isn’t one specific scene of hers to highlight in this film. From the first moment you see her, you won’t be able to take your eyes of her. The fact that she is married to Mendes in real life makes me appreciate her April that much more.
Likewise for scene stealer Michael Shannon, who plays John, the son of Kathy Bates’ real estate agent character. Recently released from a mental institution, John is the only “real” character in the film. He has no filter in his head that allows us to keep our mouths shut. He says what he wants, when he wants, often to shocking conclusion. I’m dumbfounded as to why Shannon hasn’t been getting Oscar buzz (although he wouldn’t beat Heath Ledger). As one of the best character actors around, Shannon will make you cringe in this film.
One thing that annoyed me during the film: the constant smoking of cigarettes and lunch-hour cocktails. But, I am young and clearly misrepresented the 50s lifestyle. As Roger Ebert said about the film: “Don't think they smoke too much in this movie. In the 1950s everybody smoked everywhere all the time. Life was a disease, and smoking held it temporarily in remission. And drinking? Every ad executive in the neighborhood would head to the bar at lunchtime to prove the maxim: One martini is just right, two are too many, three are not enough.”
Revolutionary Road is a heavy dose of melodrama, but a real one at that. Think it won’t hold up to our times given its ‘50s setting? You’re dead wrong. This is a timeless story told with vicious honesty. It showcases a class-act of people at the top of their games. Hold tight, you’re in for a ride. A+