Tuesday 5 May 2009

Movie Review: Revolutionary Road (2008)

An examination of life behind the facade of 1950's suburban normalcy, Revolutionary Road's strength and weakness lies in the performances of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Both deliver passionate and committed performances, but both exhibit continuously dramatic love/hate neck-breaking changes in emotion that are often unexplained. While the emotional roller-coaster drives the drama forward, it all rings hollow as a believable narrative.

April (Winslet) and Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) have settled into a seemingly typical suburban marriage, where she has given up on an acting career to raise two kids (who seem to conveniently disappear from the latter part of the movie) and he has settled into a typical corporate job. Looking to re-ignite a passion for life, April proposes that they leave American suburbia behind and move to Paris -- quite the radical thought for the 1950's. A relatively quick downward spiral in their fortune ensues when Frank receives the opportunity for an unexpected promotion, and April receives an unwanted surprise.

Revolutionary Road creates a 1950's world where no one is very pleasant. April and Frank are mostly argumentative. Frank's co-workers and bosses are not exactly role models. The neighbours are just there to be tolerated, with the added attraction of the adult son of the local realtor, who is on leave from the local mental institution, which gives him licence to say exactly what is on his mind. It's a useful but rudimentary plot device to explicitly expose what may be going on inside the minds of April and Frank.

Do these two love each other or hate each other? Do they share the same dreams or are they just being polite while using each other? Why do they sexually betray each other with seemingly not a second thought? And is one of them actually insane? The movie just raises these questions and leaves them hanging, which would be fine if the behaviour on display is half-way believable, but when both the questions being asked and the wild swings in affection are blatantly over-the-top, it's difficult to feel much empathy for the couple.

The movie, based on the book by Richard Yates, feels quite theatrical and stage-bound, and there is not much imagination shown in filming locations outside the Wheeler's house. The performances of Winslet and DiCaprio do rise above the material, as they both demonstrate commitment to the turbulence of life.

Revolutionary Road is a companion piece to Director Sam Mendes' award winning American Pie (1999), which tackles the same themes in a contemporary setting. Mendes appears drawn to the death of individual dreams within crumbling suburban marriages. The debris from crumbled aspirations is interesting, but it's always better to build a sturdier structure before tearing it down.

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