Revolutionary Road (2008)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Dylan Baker, Richard Easton
Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
Music by Thomas Newman
Edited by Tariq Anwar
Written by Justin Haythe
Directed by Sam Mendes
Rating: 9 out of 10
(no real spoilers)
Revolutionary Road is the adaptation of a great novel by Richard Yates that I read many years ago and dearly loved as an amazingly early criticism of our culture. The movie achieves to portray the problems from the novel in a very effective way. I don’t want to compare both of them too much, because I think the movie is its own thing that works well. It features great performances, especially by Kate Winslet and Michael Shannon, but really, all the actors are great. It’s beautifully directed and shot, with a great Thomas Newman score. Director Sam Mendes treads very similar territory as in his American Beauty, but the movies are very different in their tone.
Frank and April Wheeler are the typical perfect couple of the 40s/50s but the movie cleverly starts with a scene that shows nothing is actually working. April (Winslet) tries to be an actress and Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio, also really good as always) is almost embarrassed just because she tried. What embarrasses him in fact of course is that she tries to find an escape from their lives and can’t deny her unhappiness. He is unhappy with his job and his life too, but has made himself comfortable with it. He knows she is right but he is simply too scared to change anything. That is their conflict that they are fighting over all through the move. She knows they need to change something, but she needs his support, while he knows it too but his fear keeps him inside his prison. But it is not necessarily true that she is right and he is wrong. Both are conflicted and confused as their lives didn’t turn out the way they thought it would. They feel cheated because they thought they stood above this culture and now they’re trapped and don’t know how it happened.
They have two kids but the movie does a great job of keeping them out of frame so much that it’s startling to see them at all for the first time. They play no role in their lives, they are merely background noise because Frank and April are both so busy feeling helpless and unhappy (not unlike the kids in The Wolf of Wall Street). We don’t see the consequences of this upbringing, but it’s clear that the neglect those kids endure does not give them a happy start (not unlike Julianne Moore’s son in the thematically similar The Hours). But the movie doesn’t deal with that, but it features them so effectively by keeping them out that it’s hard not to think about them.
So, the movie’s focus lies on Frank and April’s battle for freedom, for escape from their bourgeois life that they never asked themselves if they wanted it. Into their fragile lives full of misunderstandings, anxiety and false hope crashes John (Michael Shannon, finally convincing me he is a good actor), the son of the Wheeler’s realtor (Kathy Bates, who lands some punches with her small role). He is deemed crazy because he is honest and frank about the lives of pretense everyone is living. It is one of those characters that drive everyone crazy by saying things everyone knows are true but no one wants to hear them. Shannon delivers those lines so perfectly that you can see how he is locked away, although he does nothing wrong. What they call insanity is only the frustration of realizing that ignorance can be stronger than truth.
The movie is not over when you think it is. After Frank and April’s story is tragically over, we get one more scene with Helen and Howard Givings (Kathy Bates and Richard Easton) and how they react to what happens to the Wheelers. I don’t want to spoil the scene, but it captures perfectly the pretense and ignorance of the lives these people (and we) lead, but also how you can be aware of the falseness while still living it. This scene really caught me by surprise and is, in some way, the highlight of the movie because it embodies what maybe its main theme: the fear of change.