Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates
What’s it about? The Wheelers, Frank and April, are a young couple living in clean cut ’50s suburbia who decide to move to Paris in search of a more exciting life, but unfortunately not everything goes to plan.
This is another tale of suburban secrets, masked by the oh-so-perfect image which American suburbia displays, a topic much exploited in recent years but certainly brought to prominence in Mendes’ American Beauty. Mendes’ films since then have not gained the same level of admiration so it’s no surprise really that he chose to return to Beauty’s general theme in Revolutionary Road. He also had the ability to team Winslet with DiCaprio, a pairing that seemed to guarantee audience numbers.
Winslet and DiCaprio are not a great match but it does work on some levels; DiCaprio, while still too young to convincingly pull off the bread-winning husband role, at least fills the criteria for being the softer spouse, unable to fulfill his his wife’s needs and demands. Winslet’s character is a stark contrast, often cold and almost always the stronger of the two. At times, their scenes together seem quite theatrical, a fact promoted by the dialogue (April to Frank: “You’re the most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world. You’re a man!” Oh please). The best scenes tend to be those in which the pair argue and let their emotions fly, a relief from their constant need to portray a polished family image.
The supporting roles are brilliantly cast, with Michael Shannon showing up even the principal actors in a memorable turn as a neighbour, Helen Giving’s (Kathy Bates’) mentally unstable son. His fierce temper and brutal honesty tear at the Wheelers’ happy disguise. Visually, the film is a joy to watch thanks to the elegant ’50s fashions and the beautiful settings; two particularly impressive scenes are that of April in a smoky dance hall with her admiring neighbour, and also the scenes in the woodland area near the Wheeler’s home, an area which allows April in particular a means of escape from the stifling neighbourhood.
It is April, moreso than Frank, who is the subject of this film, and her constant need to supress her true feelings is reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s role in The Changeling, a testament to the ‘hysterical woman’ of yesteryear, wherein any trouble stirred up by a woman could be put down to ‘female hysteria’. Given this, and the other issues raised in Revolutionary Road, it is a movie that will stay with you for some time after viewing it, and which can lead to plenty discussion. Yet, with Thomas Newman’s score hanging over this tale of smothered suburban life, the comparisons to American Beauty are rife, and due to Beauty being the first and the better film, Revolutionary Road’s ability to shock and amaze us is smothered also.