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Revolutionary Road (2009) Director Sam Mendes 3 February 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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This 1950s set American ‘all is not good behind the white picket fence’ drama sees the re-uniting of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio onscreen for the first time since Titanic in 1997. The film is also the first that husband and wife Mendes and Winslet have worked on together and it proves to be a worthy collaboration for their superlative talents.

Winslet and DiCaprio play April and Frank Wheeler a typical middle America couple, seemingly happy on the surface and destined for bigger things, looked upon with admiration by their neighbours, but in reality they are destined to achieve nothing that they aspire to. Events start off promising. The Wheelers decide to move to Paris, a dream Frank has had all his life, to get out of the rut they are stuck in where they are now. It is a dream but unfortunately circumstance conspires against the Wheelers and everything does not go according to plan.

The film is an uncompromising and brutal portrayal of the tragic breakdown of a relationship once based on pure love but corrupted by years of disappointment and shattered dreams. DiCaprio plays Frank like a child, a man who has never really grown up and has accepted his fate to repeat the dead end life his father lived in the marketing department of technology company Knox. These early scenes are tough to watch and hint at what is to come in the future but after Frank and April formulate their plan to leave for Paris DiCaprio embodies Frank with the kind of boyish excitement he plays best. Needless to say when he’s required to be serious and aggressive in the closing scenes of the film his performance doesn’t quite hold up to Winslet’s ice cold portrayal of a broken April, but its another impressive notch to add to his respectable career resurgence.

Winset is the real stand out of the film however. Her performance is her best in years and quite possibly the best of her career. It’s a travesty she has been nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Reader over this as Winslet gives a far richer and vastly more affecting performance here, despite the fact the story doesn’t deal with the same kind of ‘big issues’ The Reader does. Like DiCaprio Winslet goes through the whole spectrum of emotions with April but we never really get the impression she can ever be happy with her life. It’s clear, without even having to be expressed in words, that April cannot live the suburban lifestyle for much longer. Unlike Frank she can never be happy where she is and Winslet embodies the desperate of a woman trying to escape a self imposed imprisonment perfectly.

Mendes’ direction is as accomplished as any of his other works. He hit the ground running with American Beauty and with the help of veteran Director of Photography he has created some of the most visually astounding American films of the past few years. The film is also immeasurably enhanced by a beautiful soundtrack provided by Thomas Newman, subtle at first but with a haunting theme in the tragic concluding scenes that will stick with you long after the closing credits.

Unfortunately Revolutionary Road doesn’t quite live up to expectations. It took me a long time to get into the film and I can only put that down to the style of language used throughout. Admittedly once I accepted it in the context of the film it never bothered me again but it was a little obstacle. The film also feels like its retreading familiar ground. American Beauty adequately covered troubled American suburbia and before that Blue Velvet comprehensively deconstructed the American ideal that all is good behind the white picket fence. There’s little new that Revolutionary Road brings to the sub-genre.

Beautifully shot with one astounding lead performance and one very good one (as well as a wonderful Oscar nominated turn by Michael Shannon), Revolutionary Road ends up being slightly less than the sum of its part and a harrowing account of the breakdown of a relationship once based on true love. Not one to take the girlfriend to then.

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