Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Revolutionary Road (2008, Sam Mendes)

One of the painful truths that most people have to deal with once adulthood hits is the idea that we aren’t nearly as special or as unique as we’d like to think we are. Life exerts a tidal pull on most of us, and swim though we might, we just aren’t strong enough to avoid getting swept up in it. It’s this idea more than any other that wrecks the marriage of Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), a pair of twentysomething dreamers who yearn for a life in Paris until reality hits them smack in the face in the form of a pair of kids and the demands that pile up as a result. This germ of a premise forms the basis of Revolutionary Road, a movie which, alas, takes that germ as the foundation for yet another handsomely-mounted portrait of suburban ennui. Like its protagonists, the film seems to pin the blame for the couple’s discontents on soul-sucking suburban life. Based on the evidence in the story, the Wheelers’ problems spring from something deeper than their locale- a lack of shared interests and some skewed priorities, to name two examples- that would doubtless follow them no matter their surroundings. But as in Mendes’ severely overrated Oscar-winner American Beauty, Revolutionary Road takes the easy way out in its portrayal of dead-end suburbia. Mendes has never been the subtlest of filmmakers, and this comes through most clearly here in the performances by his lead actors- DiCaprio and Winslet are fine but nothing more, giving performances that are heavy on actorly stylings but light on nuance, particularly down the final stretch. Did the stylized fifties setting get the better of them? On the other hand, the ever-reliable Michael Shannon is dynamite in the film’s key supporting role. Portraying the dramatically convenient character of the truth-telling mental patient, Shannon is quickly becoming one of my favorite character actors, and here he commands his handful of scenes with his frayed-nerve intensity (his final line is devastating). Revolutionary Road is gorgeous to look at, and there are enough well-made scenes to lead me to believe that Mendes might knock a straight-up thriller out of the park. I just wish they added up to more. Rating: 5 out of 10.

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