A couple move into suburban lives only to find themselves losing their dreams and desires along the way.
For me, the biggest omission from the 2009 Academy Awards was Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road. Kate Winslet, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in her husband’s movie received an Oscar for her role in The Reader, the movie that bumped Revolutionary Road from the Best Picture nominee list. While Winslet definitely deserved her award for The Reader, it is this movie that deserved that final fifth spot for the big award.
Based on the 1961 novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road tells the story of a couple trapped in a suburban hell, with no possibility for escape. The film starts with Frank (DiCaprio), a young go-getter meeting aspiring actress April (Winslet). The two fall in love, get married, move to a nice little suburban neighborhood and transform into a nice, well respected family. The “American Dream” for most people, including their neighbors and friends, turns into a prison for this couple.
This is Winslet and DiCaprio’s first teaming since they set the world on fire in Titanic and their relationship in this film is as doomed as the one from that billion dollar epic. Franks hates his job and goes through life with a disdain for the company he works for. April hates her life and realizes that every hope and dream she ever had is drifting farther and farther away. Finally, April decides that they should move to Paris and start their lives over, her working for the government while Frank discovers what it is he can do to make himself happy. Frank is happy to make this change and their lives instantly improve. However, when she gets pregnant with their third child they cancel these plans. The two individuals become polar opposites, Frank always wanting to talk things out and rationalize what is going wrong while April never wants to talk and simply boils inside, hating Frank, herself and everything their life has become. It is the horrifying realization that the American Dream is not for everybody.
The movie is a beautiful portrait by one of the brightest filmmakers working today. Some call this a rehash of what Mendes already did in American Beauty, but I find this movie to be a more honest, horrifying vision of the death of dreams, the submission of all hope and the reality that there is not always a happily ever after. I find myself caring more about Frank, a man trapped and insecure, needing his wife’s love and support. But he is not the righteous party. I find myself with a reluctance to care about April, a failed actress who seems to want to live everyday acting out the perception of the perfect wife that the entire community expects. But April is not the bad guy in this story and is just as conflicted about life as Frank. That is what makes this film so good, neither individual is entirely good or bad, and both are emotionally destroyed by their failures to live up to their own expectations.
The couple is also contrasted with the people around them, friends and coworkers who have resigned themselves to the life they lead. We see Frank leave for work and he is surrounded by people who look and walk the exact same. Everyone is mechanical and no one really ever smiles. The work days are filled with people just suffering through the grind. Frank’s father worked for the same company for over twenty years and the president doesn’t even recognize his name. This is not a life for anyone with an artistic design for their life. Yet, Frank and April find themselves here, in a society that works through their lives and then dies. End of story.
The best character in the film is John, the mentally challenged son of two of their friends, who finds himself endeared to the couple because of their willingness to admit to being trapped in a soulless society. When they decide to stay in their suburban hell, John is the only one to tell them the truth and see through their façade. It is clear why Michael Shannon was nominated for an Oscar for this performance. However, while Winslet is solid in her role, DiCaprio is amazing as the confused, conflicted, depressed husband who finds himself trapped between responsibility and happiness, never able to make the two sides meet. This might be one of DiCaprio’s best performances.
What makes the movie work is the direction by Mendes and the beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins, the best cinematographer working today. While Deakins was nominated for his work on The Reader, he really deserves recognition for his work on Revolutionary Road, a movie that practically takes place within the walls of one house. The claustrophobia he creates with this template is amazing and a complete turn from the wide open spaces of his 2007 films The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men. Along with Mendes, who keeps the movie moving at a casual pace with deft touches of brilliance, this is an affecting work that hits you when everything comes crashing down.
This is not a movie to watch if you are in a mood for light fare. This is a hard, disturbing movie that hits home to anyone who has reached middle age and realizes life has not gone as planned and you may never achieve the dreams you had when you were younger. Frank and April are the black side of suburban America and their hopelessness rests in the back of anyone’s mind that still struggles to understand their way in life. Sam Mendes may not have been nominated for an Academy Award for this movie but it is miles better than the one he did win it for.
There is a commentary track with Sam Mendes where he leads a discussion on the making of the film with screenwriter Justin Haythe. This is a fantastic commentary and Mendes is a joy to listen to. He seems honest and frank about the entire process and gives a lot of information about adapting such a great novel to film. There is also a making-of documentary that runs a half hour and talks to just about everyone involved including DiCaprio, Winslet, Mendes and more. It lasts about a half hour and is fairly informative. Finally there are 8 deleted scenes, as Mendes cut about twenty minutes from the movie to make it feel more like the novel.