Review: Revolutionary Road (2008)

Revolutionary Road

Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon

Frank and April Wheeler are a couple living happily in 1950s suburbia, that is, they appear as such to friends and co-workers alike. Under the surface, the deterioration of their marriage is being perpetuated by Frank’s feelings of indecision towards his wife’s partially implausible ideas to move away to live a life of supposed luxury in Paris, France. It’s this indecision that forces the couple to continue living a life of conformity, further exasperating the poor condition their relationship is in and triggering a harrowing series of events that will truly test the validity of their feelings for each other.

Revolutionary Road, or “How I Learned to Hate My Spouse by Embracing Irrational Ideals” is Sam Mendes’ latest contribution to the world of cinema, and an ambitious one at that. Despite the buzz surrounding the film and the magnificent efforts put forth by a dynamite cast, I felt it was more or less lacking in several other important areas that would otherwise make it a perfect adaptation of a relatively acclaimed novel. First, for as much as the film seems to revolve around life, love, and the pursuit of happiness in light of 1950s conformity, its primary focus sometimes gets lost in several different plot points that have a detrimental effect on its pacing. To elaborate, it feels these elements have been thrown in on the basis of milking the terrific efforts of the cast by just presenting something new for them to argue about, regardless if they aid in staying true to the source material, allowing for a whole mess of dull moments amidst fewer more intriguing ones. I blame the screenplay.

Another qualm I had was with the lack of overall substance despite the worsening conditions inside the Wheeler home. Nothing terribly important seems to take place outside the confines of their house on Revolutionary Road, and when something does, it has little to no effect on the couple and their opinions of one another, with the exception of Frank and his job. Even further still, the characters themselves are very hard to like, as they seem to only exist inside their own heads. It’s with this however, that the overall tragedy surrounding the Wheelers and their dead-end circumstances characteristic of the 1950s, captured beautifully by the way, become all the more apparent through their behaviors, which can be perceived as a definite plus in bringing out the best in a terrific cast.

Needless to say, the performances are without a doubt Revolutionary Road‘s strongest suit. No matter how dull or convoluted the plot may get for some viewers, DiCaprio and Winslet swoop in to save the day with their simply marvelous efforts. Hell, I’ll even go so far as to say DiCaprio gives one of his best performances to date, bringing to the table just the right amount of emotion without going overboard. His counterpart Winslet is equally as impressive as wife April, using their nearly flawless chemistry to effortlessly counter all of her husband’s low blows with some of her own as the film nears its harrowing, albeit somewhat rushed conclusion.

The biggest surprise I came across in this regard though couldn’t be found within anyone else outside of Michael Shannon, earning himself a well-deserved Oscar nomination in the process. His character John Givings: the mentally unstable son of Helen and Howard Givings, aptly portrayed by Kathy Bates and Richard Easton, manages to bring out the worst in DiCaprio’s Frank with each visit to the Wheeler household. Eventually, his words are enough to push the couple to the brink of extinction, successfully evoking my first feelings of admiration for this film outside of the efforts of the lead couple.

Revolutionary Road is without a doubt a worthy entry into 2008’s dynamite lineup, but outside of some truly excellent acting, it manages to fall a bit flat due to some pacing issues on the basis of a less than perfect screenplay and an overall lack of substance to an extent; possibly due to a below average adaptation of the Richard Yates novel. Sam Mendes does prove to us with his always ample direction that he wasn’t just a flash in the pan with his previous work, but it’s a shame that this film had to rely so heavily on the cast to evoke a positive reaction from critics and casual viewers alike. Still very much worth your time though if you’re a fan of Mendes, DiCaprio, or Winslet.

Rating: 6/10

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