Sunday, January 04, 2009

Revolutionary Road (***)

Revolutionary Road. 119 mins. R. Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Justin Haythe. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, and Kathy Bates.

Revolutionary Road, for all the acting fireworks on display, is about as depressing and thematically redundant a movie as you're likely to see all year. That's not to say the movie is bad. It looks great - Sam Mendes and his crew do a fine job of capturing the 50s and the cinematography is pristine and gorgeous. Going about 180 degrees away from Titanic, both Leo and Kate give career highlight performances and really sink their teeth into the meaty dialogue. Revolutionary Road is very heavy, in-your-face drama and much of the film feels like it was adapted from some caustic stage play a la Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Leo and Kate play Frank and April Wheeler, thirty year-olds who married young, had kids, and moved out to the suburbs apparently way too early. Frank hates his job but has made the most of his limited aspirations and need to conform. April pretty much hates her life, her husband, her kids, her surroundings, and somehow gets it into her head that they could be much happier if they just packed up and moved to Paris. That the Wheelers never make it to Paris is no big surprise, but I wasn't quite prepared for just how dark things would get. Like I said, the movie's disturbing. But what keeps it from really hitting home harder is the script's unsubtle approach to its themes. April isn't given much of a reason as to why she thinks that she is destined for greater things. She's such a depressing character that I doubt she'd be happy anywhere, even if she got out of the suburbs. Sam Mendes tackled these same themes before in 1999's American Beauty and at least that film had some humor to balance things out. Not so here. Much has been made of Michael Shannon's performance as a mentally unstable houseguest who only speaks the truth, but I thought the character was an easy plot device that seemed like someone right out of Grey's Anatomy. Yes, we know - marriage sucks. The suburbs suck. If you didn't get that in the first ten minutes, then the six (I counted) different endings, which all make the same thematic point, really hammer you over the head with it. Despite its pedigree and potential for greatness, Revolutionary Road ends up just being pretty good.



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