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Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendesí return to the domestically dysfunctional stomping grounds that made his name back in 1999 with American Beauty, has given me all sorts of grief.  I thought I was pretty much done for the year, ready to call it a day on 2008 and then along comes this movie.  Now Iíve gotta go back and put Revolutionary Road on all my best of lists, not only for the year, but possibly for all time.

If I was the swearing type, Iíd have exactly the expletive to describe my reaction to this film; it is one much more closely associated with professional wrestling matches or special effects blockbusters.  Revolutionary Road is that much of a shock of power and gravity.  Like a kick in the gut, the performances are raw and brutal.  Mendesí great achievement is leveling his actorsí emotional nakedness against the veneer of the self-possession and plastic reserve of the filmís 1950ís setting.

Frank and April Wheeler are just a couple of crazy, dreamy-eyed kids in love.  At least they were before marriage, kids and the perfect house in the suburbs came along.  Somewhere Frankís romantic talk of travel and Aprilís unconventional life as a struggling actress fell by the wayside of their quaint Connecticut surroundings.  Aprilís discomfiture at settling into the mode of the typical 1950ís family seeps into every aspect of her being.  In the role of the breadwinner and man of the house, Frank has slipped into upwardly mobile docility far easier than his restless wife and cannot relate to Aprilís rages against happy mediocrity.  To April, the encroaching languid domesticity threatens to overtake their pledge to always hold on to the young, progressive couple they were.  Desperate to seize the last gasps of their heady ideals, April pleads with Frank to come away from the stale, bourgeois existence that is consuming them and run off to live the life of true bohemians in France.  One personís freedom is anotherís bondage and Frank and April struggle to find the common ground that will allow them to be happy again.

Based on a 1961 novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road is a study in the moral claustrophobia of an era.  The film shines a light on marital disappointment and fading dreams that arenít so far removed from this age as then.  Aprilís wrath against the dawning of comfortable mediocrity and ďsettling downĒ is relevant to anyone whoís watched a lover become less than the superhero you were sure was there.  That frustration, bouncing against the rubber walls of a beautiful home in 1950ís Connecticut, is made all the more stifling when the entire neighbourhood is watching and judging.  Aprilís passion for life and one last grab at it is smothered by all around her, including her mate, and is ridiculed for being a childish or unrealistic decision.  The utter betrayal April feels realising that she and Frank have grown into utterly different people than the two young dreamers they began as is sealed when Frank questions her very sanity at her inability to happily live in what he has decided is a perfect life. 

This is the best thing that either Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet has ever done.  Considering that Winslet is chronically excellent in everything she does, that states much.  The very antithesis of their previous hearts and flowers coupling in 1997ís Titanic; one could easily muse that this might have been how Jack and Roseís life turned out had he been able to stay on that floating table.  DiCaprio lends an oozy charm to Frankís smug, entitled alpha-male working drone.  Frank is comfortable with his place in the world because despite his initial reluctance at following in his fatherís footsteps at the same company; heís simply got the best a working stiff can ask for.  The three-martini lunches and access to disposable, dewy-eyed secretaries are simply a matter of course.  As his star rises within his company, the more frightened Frank becomes of losing the stability that April despises.  DiCaprio does a lovely bit of balancing between the smarmy philanderer and the mystified young man who no longer understands the woman he is still besotted with.  Winsletís April is arch and passionate, nurturing, confident and needy.  As her own dream of becoming an actress dies in a Connecticut school auditorium, ill-placed words by a well-meaning, clumsy Frank add bricks to the wall of her reserve to be more than just another suburban mom.  Without histrionics, Winsletís ability to convey how trapped April is by every aspect of her life is breathtaking.  Under Aprilís constant public scrutiny, Winslet gives more away with less - a flick of a cigarette and a downward gaze - than scores of others actors of her generation could manage with reams of dialogue.  In the forcibly subdued veneer of acceptable 1950ís behaviour, April fairly chokes on her distaste for everything she and Frank have become; frightened, boring and finally ordinary.  When neither hysterics nor silence avail her nothing, one can feel the walls closing in on her.  One particular moment finds April Stepford Wife perfect, the absolute prototype of the 1950ís housewife and it is absolutely chilling.

The fantastic supporting cast is the Maraschino cherry on the Rob Roy.  From Dylan Baker as Frankís slimy, unctuous cubicle mate, to Kathy Bates as Mrs. Givings, the Wheelerís adoring, nosy friend and realtor, to David Harbour as the next door neighbour whose adoration for the Wheelers goes a bit deeper.  The standout in the supporting cast is Michael Shannon as the Givingsí mentally ill son, John.  The Givings reckon being around a model young couple like the Wheelers might help John to acclimate himself back into society.  Johnís unclouded insight and lack of verbal inhibition cuts a swathe through the fluffy veil of pretense of the Wheelersí public front, forcing even the couple to face hard truths.  Shannonís nervous, imposing presence jolts a film that was already moving along quite nicely.  His shattering of the Wheelersí carefully posed perfection is a band-aid torn off a raw wound.  Itís not lost on April that the institutionalised John is the only one who sees her life in the same way she does.

Comparisons will obviously be made to Mendesí American Beauty. Well, beyond taking that same suburban nightmare territory, Revolutionary Road goes so much further.  The 1950ís is much more fertile ground for the mannered, simmering desperation abundant in the piece.  Sam Mendes masterfully conducts his impeccable cast, alternately reining in and allowing controlled fireworks of verbal savagery to suit the age of apropos and good reputations.  Itís been a long time since I was haunted by a film, but Revolutionary Road will stay in my eye for a very long time.

Brilliant, this.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

December 10th, 2008

 

PS:  Click here to read our chat with Kate Winslet.  No, really, Kate Winslet.

 

 

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Paramount Vantage)

 

 

 

 

 

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