Written by Justin Haythe
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon and Kathy Bates
John Givings: Now you’ve said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.
The drive from the train station is not that far. Once you get past the first stretch, home to local folk like plumbers, seamstresses and the like, you turn on to a quaint, quiet road. The house that will hopefully soon be the home to you and your children, present and future, sits atop its tiny slope, understated but proud. As you drive past the other homes, you see the people that inhabit them. The children run under sprinklers; the parents sit on their porches and enjoy their afternoon cocktails. They all look so happy, so home. This is what you need. This is what will make you happy too. This is Revolutionary Road. Only, it isn’t really that. What it is really, is Sam Mendes’ REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, and just like the pretty picture it paints, it isn’t as revelatory as it inherently suggests nor does it bring the happiness you thought it might.
Mendes has been down this particular road before. In the Oscar winning, AMERICAN BEAUTY, Mendes explored the trappings of suburban life. It was hardly revelatory when he did it then but screenwriter, Alan Ball’s unique take on the subject made it feel fresh and relevant. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is based on Richard Yates’ 1961 novel of the same name. It tells the story of Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), the lovely, new couple who have bought the aforementioned house at the end of Revolutionary Road and who bring with them the promise of youth and vitality. You see, the Wheeler’s are special. Everyone has always said as much. Then they moved to Revolutionary Road. They made their house into a home and filled that home with two wonderful children. It was at this point that they realized that they may not truly be as special as everyone has always said, that perhaps they are not destined for anything greater than what they already have.
Leo and Kate are perfectly cast as the Wheeler’s. More than ten years after TITANIC, the pair are together again and now everyone gets to see exactly what might have happened if the couple had survived the boat going down. (I trust I gave nothing away there.) And while there is nothing romantic about their reunion, they are REVOTIONARY ROAD’s one true revelation. Winslet is remarkable. She is subtly but always at odds with herself inside. She wants to love her life, her husband, and on some level, she does. But she is also yearning and desperate to feel alive. DiCaprio is a bit shaky but while April’s hand is less than reassuring, Winslet’s hand lifts him and elevates his performance to nearly the same level as hers. To watch the two of them go back and forth between being hopeful for their futures and dismally resigned to a lifetime of unhappiness is a ride well worth taking and one that will certainly leave you dizzy by the time it comes to its harrowing close.
The problem with REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is that Mendes seems more concerned in presenting the Wheeler’s as a symbol for the greater point instead of allowing them to just be the relatable characters that they are. Frank and April are special. When we begin to buy into the idea that we are just like everyone else is when we become just like everyone else. When a film tries to make a point instead of just allowing the point to make itself is when a film takes on an importance it did not earn to start. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD could have been beautiful if it wasn’t trying so hard to be the biggest house on the block.