You say you want a revolution?
Revolutionary Road (2008): 9 out of 10: The strangest complaint about this movie is that it is painful to watch and too realistic. For example one critic exclaims “It’s unbecoming — and it should be worked out in private, not in a movie theater.” another claims.“This is a movie about two people in pain; the last thing they need is for Mendes to turn his cool camera on them.”
This is a serious depiction of the disintegration of a marriage. Should we be expecting musical numbers? Are we so used to “everything will work out” American movies with big-name stars that we now demand successful conclusions? If you have ever sat through a Holocaust film or a movie involving a dog named Yeller, you know the eternal truth. This is not going to end well.
Kate Winslet gives an outstanding performance; this should surprise no one. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is her equal in every way; and there is no denying in those 15 odd years after Titanic that these two stars have even more chemistry than before. The rest of the cast is also beyond top notch with Kathy Bates as a venomous realtor, a particular stand out.
Sam’s direction also shines. He keeps the camera pointed at both the actors and seemingly their characters’ souls. In addition, nobody uses focus and character placement better than Mendes. Each frame seems its own work of art.
The plot is simple. Winslet and DiCaprio are married with two kids. He works in a dead-end job in Manhattan, while she takes care of the kids and lives in quiet desperation in suburbia. If there is a problem with the set-up, it is that women in the audience may be noticeably envious of Winslet’s lifestyle while the men may hanker for a do nothing, three martinis, fling with the secretary, job. (Not to mention being able to afford a house in what looks like Westport on the salary of one man in a telemarketing sales job.)
Life in the fifties, at least for the white middle class, does not seem terrible on the surface. That said, the yearning and the subsequent disastrous consequences seem all too true. Winslet and DiCapiro fight like actual couples do. Starting small and quickly hitting at each other’s hot buttons.
Winslet has the emotional heft in the arguments and comes across as the stronger person; wounded by life. DiCapiro, ironically, only has the fact he is right to keep him afloat. (Moving to Paris would solve nothing, he is as trapped as she is, and neither of them is special.)
I have a couple of nitpicks with Revolutionary Road. The conveniently disappearing children are a problem. Director Mendes trots them out for a few scenes in the middle of the film, but honestly, they are never underfoot as real children are when marriages disintegrate. In addition, that fact that Winslet’s Stepford wife routine does not raise DiCaprio’s eyebrows towards the end of the film raised my eyebrows. He seemed a little more clued during the proceeding scenes to let that pass by unnoticed.
I did recognize the arguments that couples have, as well as the quandary of following your dreams rather than being happy with whom you are. (Following your bliss can lead to much misery in actual life; both for yourself and those that love you.) Then again, we have only one life, so how should we spend it?
I do not see this argument between flights of fancy and a practical life being solved anytime soon. However, as short as our time on Earth is, I cannot help but recommend spending two hours of it in the company of Winslet and DiCapiro. Revolutionary Road is simply one of the best films of 2008.