Saturday, January 31, 2009

Revolutionary Road ***

Revolutionary Road
*** out of ****

Undoubtedly countless people were eagerly awaiting the return of America's most famous screen couple: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The two's first time together was in Titanic, which ended up being the biggest film of all time. They waited twelve years to work together again, and they made sure that the film they decided to do was as different from Titanic as possible. However, in Revolutionary Road, something does hit an iceberg and sinks.
DiCaprio is Frank, and Winslet is April. The setting is sometime in the 1950's. In the first scene, the two meet at a party and instantly connect. The very next scene is years later, after they got married and had kids and moved into the suburbs. They are no longer a happy couple. Frank has a boring job that he hates and admits that he doesn't even understand what he does. April is miserable as a stay-home mom. They bicker constantly and grow farther and farther apart. To ease the tension, April suggests they embrace the dream they had before they got married and move to Paris. Frank loves the idea and the two start packing to move. For about two months, they are in a state of euphoria, where they are the happiest they've been in years, or at least pretending they are happy. They explain to their kids that they'll be taking a boat to travel across the ocean. But, an unintended pregnancy and a big promotion for Frank suspend their plans permanently, sending them immediately back into the funk they were in before. Soon, both of them are engaged in adultery and talking about abortion.
By far the best part of the film is John Givings, played by character actor Michael Shannon. His mother Helen sold the couple their house and stops by almost everyday to pay a visit. Kathy Bates plays Helen as the stereotypical '50s old lady, always finding the positive and striving to keep everyone happy. She is embarassed by her son John, who was a successful mathematician until he went insane and was put in a mental institution. She convinces April to meet John so that he might become well. John pokes his nose into their business and asks probing questions, ultimately revealing precious truths these characters don't want said aloud. Shannon plays the character as such an uninhibited psychopath that he actually strangely reminds me of Heath Ledger's Joker. He does the most he can with his limited screen time and makes himself the most memorable part of the movie.
Revolutionary Road is a very dark film that has many glaring flaws. DiCaprio, usually a very entertaining actor to watch, gives an unusually mixed performance that sometimes feels stiff and reminds the audience that he's reading from the script. Strangely, the kids are largely absent from the film, appearing in only a few scenes when they should have been closer to the focus. The beautiful score and lighthearted costumes and sets mask the ugly nature of the plot. Instead of starting out as a happy couple and then descending into madness, they start off more or less as miserable as they end up. When there is a very tense and emotional fight before the title is even shown, there is something tragically wrong with the pacing of the film.
But amazing performances from the entire cast (especially Winslet and Shannon), impeccable direction by Sam Mendes, and some very emotional scenes raise the movie above the mess it could have easily become. I think the reunion of the two biggest stars in the world could have been a slightly happier occasion, but one guesses that the filmmakers were not interested in showing the happiness of suburban life; quite the opposite, actually. (Also, I find it funny that this is the movie in which DiCaprio and Winslet DIDN'T get on the big boat, and yet bad things happened anyway.)
I would recommend this movie to people who like dramas and fans of the stars.

You can watch the trailer here:

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