“Revolutionary Road” could easily serve as a companion piece to Sam Mende’s award winning “American Beauty.” The positively blistering commentary on dysfunctional marriage that plagued suburbia in the late 1950’s makes for some stirring drama and outstanding filmmaking across the board.
With the arrival of television’s award winning “Mad Men,” not to mention countless other films of the same ilk (“Far From Heaven,” “The Hours”), the film has the added pressure of making us care for a story we’ve seen many times before.
April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) and Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) are a seemingly perfect couple as presented in the beginning of the film. Both are young and free-spirited; April is presented as a vibrant young actress and Frank as a dashing, charming individual. The two enter into a relationship and there is talk of elaborate dreams and big plans.
Unfortunately, reality is a bitch. Flash-forward about seven years, now with two children, both have literally become empty shells of their former selves. They just bought a sterile, white house in the suburbs of Connecticut on a street known as Revolutionary Road. Her reality consists of a blank stare as she wanders off into her own fantasies for relief, while he chooses to ignore his unhappy existence with escape through work and extra-marital affairs.
Soon, April is desperately hatching plans that she believes will alleviate the rocky relationship. She impulsively suggests the couple move to London, a place the represents the life and vibrance they once possessed. Though he agrees (hesitantly at first), reality’s ugly head rears itself once again with the announcement that April is pregnant. This starts a very painful, destructive unraveling of the couple, with hidden emotions thrust to the forefront as both are forced to face their demons and their failing marriage.
“Revolutionary Road” is essentially a film about the asphyxiating elements of suburban life in the 50’s. Many have tackled this topic, but very few have realized this material as well as Sam Mendes. The “in your face nature” of Mende's “American Beauty” made for truly unsettling cinema, but “Road” is a tour de force in a different way. Among other things, he has a keen eye for tapping into what makes a tragic situation tick. Mendes build is slow, but he will keep you magnetized as he takes the Wheeler’s into the inner circle of suburban hell, each moment stinging harder than the last.
The performances are stellar. Winslet and DiCaprio, matched for the first time in 10 years, are positively electric. Fans of “Titanic” beware, this isn’t that kind of love story. DiCaprio wonderfully embodies a man who has bottled his unhappiness so much he really can’t handle the truth coming to the surface. Winslet is also exceptional, making us feel strongly for an emotionally unstable woman with literally no way out of her nightmare. A fight sequence late in the film between the two is a moment academy awards are made of.
When all is said and done, the trip down “Revolutionary Road” is indeed an exhausting one. However, very few films in 2008 convey the sheer power and heartbreak that this well made film expertly exudes.