Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road


Reviewed by: Chris

Revolutionary Road is an exquisite piece of serious melodrama. Much of the emotional depth relies on what we don’t see, don’t hear and don’t have explained. Characters control their feelings rather more than American cinema would usually like them to. This may put off teenage audiences. There's a lack of subject matter one can relate to without at least one failed marriage, one relationship you get up for but would rather not, and a long period where the choice between emptiness and hopelessness stretches out like a life sentence. DiCaprio and Winslet are reunited. This time, it’s not the Titanic that fails to reach its destination, it’s the American Dream.

Take a moment to recall a time when you had something all figured out. How everything would be just perfect if only people would do it your way. Trapped inside individual visions of perfection, Frank and April communicate at emotional cross-purposes. They are an idyllically good-looking young couple in 1950s Connecticut, buying their first house. Expecting their first child. The world is opening up to them...

Copy picture

What do you do when you love someone and they won’t see sense? Frank tries to disabuse April of her childish notions of being an actress, something she has trained for. She’s awful at it anyway, he’s right. But why can he not see that this is not the way to be supportive and loving? April slips jarringly from being the perfect wife to putting on perfection as a show. Then she has a bright idea. Let’s start again. In Paris. Frank will have time to find what he really wants to do in life instead of an advertising job he hates. Deep down he loves her. If she can just re-kindle that.

The problem with pretending to be nice is just that. If you have to pretend, then deeper issues are not right. Sooner or later they will come to the surface. Stuff about the symbolic nature of the title (the street where Frank and April live is called Revolutionary Road) could fill pages. But the film’s strength is that any deeper meanings are secondary. There is sometimes a great temptation (certainly for this writer) to interpret films within a social context, to analyse their moral agenda. But this can blind us to the power of film as autonomous art, the precise use of a dramatic device for its own sake, the carefully crafted harmony of costume, lighting, sets, inflection and intonation, and the many formal techniques unique to cinema among the arts.

Winslet is here more self-assured than in many of her flamboyantly emotional parts. She delivers her lines with scalpel-like precision, and at last cuts the profile of an actress destined to become legend. DiCaprio is still underestimated as an actor in my opinion. Here, he plays off Winslet with the fire of a young Brando. As they throw emotional punches at each other, they are like two five-star boxers. Pain is inflicted without breaking rules. The cut and thrust of barbed words elicits the worst from them. Is change possible without destruction?

Bring on a neighbour’s son, a mathematics Ph.D, who is certifiably unsocial after repeated electroshock treatment to ‘fix’ him. Now he's a village fool like those of legend, who can speak the truth that no one else dares to. Nowhere is such an occasionally theatrical device deployed more scathingly than with Michael Shannon’s character, John Givings. A man who is past caring, towering over Frank and April physically and intellectually, he shreds any illusions we dare hold for their sake.

Perhaps I am wrong about teenage audiences. Some did walk out. But I remember Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, one of the first ‘adult’ themed films I saw as a young lad. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, bickering incessantly, and pointlessly showing off an encyclopaedic command of words just to needle each other. I had to make myself sit through it, but the film made a deep impression and I look back on it now as a classic. I hope some young viewers will have the same experience with this Revolutionary Road.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2009
Share this with others on...
Revolutionary Road packshot
A young couple in an apparently perfect marriage turn on each other as they struggle to communicate.
Amazon link

Director: Sam Mendes

Writer: Justin Haythe, Richard Yates

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Soule, Heidi Armbruster, Sam Rosen, Maria Rusolo, Gena Oppenheim

Year: 2008

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA, UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

A Streetcar Named Desire