Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio
“Revolutionary Road” opens at the party in the roaring New York City apartment where Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) first meet, and instantly fall in love. The blissful beginning provides a rare glimpse of happiness in a film that spends the next two wretched hours dissecting a married couple’s discontentment with their all-too normal suburban lives in 1950s America.
After tying the knot and having two kids, the Wheelers settle down in a quiet, family-friendly community in Connecticut. Frank commutes to the city everyday to work at a mundane office job while April plays house. Despite their comfort and security, neither are satisfied with what they’ve grown to be. April once dreamed of being an actress, and Frank had always envisioned something more exciting for himself. In an attempt to salvage their marriage after weeks of constant quarreling, April proposes that they leave everything behind and move to Paris on a whim. Frank reluctantly agrees, and in the following months, the two protagonists rediscover their passion for each other while preparing for their upcoming travels. However, it isn’t long before the crushing weight of responsibility comes crashing down on their plans.
Based on the novel by Richard Yates, “Revolutionary Road” is an indictment of the conformity that reigned in the so-called affluent society. All of the film’s characters live in little boxes on the hillside that all look just the same. Yet, none of them are more miserable than the chain smoking, gin-soaked Wheelers. Frank is a lowly salesman slowly suffocating in his suit and tie. He hates what he does, and hates where he lives, but lacks the backbone to improve his situation. In contrast, April wants to take initiative before she sinks even further into self-loathing and regret. Yet, there’s something pathetic about her belief that all of their marital problems will magically resolve themselves by moving to Paris.
Sam Mendes captures the harrowing disillusionment of a husband and wife who are unable to come to terms with their own conventionality when the optimism and ambition of their youth run dry. There’s nothing endearing or uplifting about “Revolutionary Road” - the characters are genuinely unlikeable and the plot is so utterly depressing that by the end you’ll be wishing for a prescription of Prozac - but I don’t mean that as a criticism. The filmmaker adopts an uncompromising approach that never sells out the book’s desolate tone. The loving scenes of reconciliation are kept to a minimum, boldly emphasizing what the audience is less comfortable watching: the heartbreaking arguments that tear Frank and April apart. It’s almost like witnessing your own parents fighting all over again, filling you with the same dreadful feeling you first experienced as a child.
The movie wouldn’t have been quite as gut-wrenching had it not been for the clever choice of actors. It’s extremely alienating to see the relationship between the former co-stars of “Titanic” (1997) fall bitterly to pieces. As usual, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio both deliver powerhouse performances that live up to the challenging material, but the real tour de force comes from the incredibly gifted Michael Shannon (who only appears in two scenes as the insane son of the Wheelers’ realtor). From the second he steps on-screen, he imposes his presence with his commanding voice, sardonic smirks, and nervous twitches.
“Revolutionary Road” isn’t for everyone - its bleak portrayal of the American dream gone wrong will turn off viewers looking for a typical Hollywood love story. But whether or not you can appreciate its heavy (and sometimes heavy-handed) subject, the film is undeniably an emotional roller coaster that offers a stunning display of some of the year’s finest acting.