Sam Mendes’ latest film, Revolutionary Road stars wife Kate Winslet in her second suburban drama in just over as many years. Focusing on the Wheeler family – or more specifically April and Frank Wheeler – Revolutionary Road shows the struggle of 1940’s society and the lack of expression within it. An apparent intellectual with the need to express what he means is looked at as a menace to society, and therefore insane.
Themes like that are what make the film standout above most in the genre. The character John Givings (played perfectly by Michael Shannon) can be seen as a mark of true freedom and how the Wheeler family urns to be like him, despite the fact that society frowns upon the behavour of Givings, aka: the crazy man.
In a much larger scope, the film relies on ironically tepid foreboding; with plentiful shots of a quaint street with nothing out of the ordinary about it, Mendes’ manages to breathe life into the screenplay adapted by Justin Haythe; however morose the content may be. With the help of Roger Deakins’ delicate hand & Thomas Newman’s wicked ear, Sam Mendes’ austere vision is complete.
The story of Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) Wheeler opens as most classic films would close: seemingly happily ever after. Opening on a quick scene to show how the couple got together – apart from a few flashbacks – we barely get a sense of how the two fell in love. We see them meet and we see them buy their first house, so apart from that, prepare for a unyielding ride through sometimes thoroughly expressed, but often silent bitterness and hatred.
Amongst the disagreements Frank and April have in their perception of how life should be they eventually come to a conclusion that life on Revolutionary Road isn’t the best place for them. Frank hates his job, but who wouldn’t if they were a minimal player at a machine company? April hates her life; a house mother with children she dismisses as family (or it would seem that way). They decide to leave.
We meet John Givings after the Wheeler’s landlady, Helen Givings (Kathy Bates) asks April Wheeler on one bright afternoon if she wouldn’t mind John’s company because Helen feels he needs to be around some real people. She complies, much to Helen’s bemusement.
The Wheeler’s insane idealism in life is shown with a very asinine tone on a very high level. With neighbors and co-workers scoffing at their unrealistic hopes and dreams, the Wheeler’s never receive any support and become segregated from society within their mindset.
At one point, John says “The nice, young Wheelers on Revolutionary Road; the nice, young revolutionaries on Wheeler Road” which can be interpreted as psychobabble, but plays a very significant role in the foreshadowing argument. A lunatic like John being able to summarize the film’s main premise in one line, while everyone else laughs at him when he says such a line is quite hilarious on a few levels. No character interprets the line as anything but jibberish, but this one line is what the entire story is all about.
Sporting a devastating group of wonderful thespians, Revolutionary Road’s cast is above and beyond most else from this year. Whether it be the charmingly played minor roles or the dynamic duo in Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, the ensemble will stagger you. However, this is by no means Winslet’s or DiCaprio’s best work to date, but it may as well be their most mature. In a surprising turn, Michael Shannon does more with his character under ten minutes than the rest of the cast can manage in the entire film. He doesn’t have nearly as much characterization and is used mainly for metaphorical purposes, but his emotional and physical deliveries are worthy of mass praise and a hopeful Oscar nomination. A perfectly contrasted performance.
With strong structure for the most part, Revolutionary Road is indeed a mark on contemporary society and how the normal perception of life can change drastically in only a few decades time. If the Wheeler’s had lived in the modern era, perhaps this story could have been a wonderful romantic comedy. ***½/****