Love and marriage. According to the Frank Sinatra tune, they go together like a horse and carriage. After watching Revolutionary Road, I would strongly rethink such a lyric. Adapted from a Richard Yates novel of the same title, Revolutionary Road is the newest release from American Beauty director Sam Mendes who continues with his trend of emotional and honest films. Revolutionary Road is only Mendes third film, but it seems as though he gets better after each outing.
Making the process slightly more difficult, or perhaps different, is that his wife, the stellar Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is playing the films female lead opposite Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed). Most of you will remember the last film these two were in together. Yes, the same Titanic that became the largest grossing film of all time and won a whopping 14 Academy Awards. Needless to say there was a lot of hype surrounding this film. Hype and all Titanic references aside, Revolutionary Road is an emotional masterpiece that could well be Winslet, DiCaprio, and Mendes finest work.
The film begins in a smoked-filled Manhattan loft in the 1950s where Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) first meet during a busy party and immediately connect. At this point the couple is young and full of eagerness to live . Eventually, as their relationship develops the young couple leaves the city, moves to the suburbs, and buys a house. On Revolutionary Road of course.
Frank works 9 to 5 in the city and April abandons her dream of becoming an actress to become a house wife who takes care of their two children. To everyone on the outside they seem like a typical suburban family, but of course no couple is ever perfect.
Deep down, they both resent the other for what they have become and the life they lead. The relationship is cold and severe and the fights (there are several) they have are perhaps some of the greatest domestic verbal battles ever captured on film.
To quell the impending demise of the marriage, April suggests they pack up and move to Paris — the city Frank had always said was the only place he visited and wanted to go back to. Frank, initially bemused by Aprils plan, warms to the idea seeing it as a chance to rebuild his life with April and accomplish the goals of his youth. This reinvigoration of their relationship provides the few moments of laughter and intimacy that we see between the couple, but it doesnt last long. Frank gets offered a
huge promotion at work, the sort of offer that doesnt come along every day, and after April tells him that she is pregnant again the offer becomes even harder to turn down.
And here is where it gets interesting. Frank wants to stay and April still wants to go. From here we see even more verbal sparring, infidelity, and an abundance of chain smoking and dry martinis. And it is interesting to note that April doesnt stop smoking or drinking even while shes pregnant, but hey, this was the 1950s.
Mendes directs this with no intent at making Frank and April look special. They are your friends, your parents and your neighbours; normal people faced with the problems of a normal marriage. Mendes provides a look inside of a marriage where compromise is seemingly non-existent. They are both so inwardly focused and unable to communicate that it makes you cringe.
DiCaprio is incredible as Frank. He makes you feel the banality of the 9 to 5 rat race, and when he loses his cool, he is simply at his best. Winslet, who continues to amaze year after year, is at times as hard as a rock and at other times a mentally fragile dreamer. Oddly enough, the most eerily powerful scenes take place when John Givings, played by Michael Shannon who gives a shockingly disturbing portrayal of a mentally-disturbed son of a neighbour (Kathy Bates), is the only one to see April and Frank for what they really are — two people who have thoroughly compromised themselves in building their lives on Revolutionary Road.
The Oscar buzz that this film is garnering is well-deserved. The acting is superb and Mendes storytelling has not lost a step. Those interested in a realistic and gripping tale will surely be impressed, and maybe just a little terrified seeing as one day, Frank and April could just as well be them.