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Non-Review Review: Revolutionary Road

That was depressing. Really depressing. Soul crushingly depressing. What we have here is a good movie that flirts with greatness but never really comes to life. Perhaps Mendes is trying to evoke the dull lifelessness of suburban life, but the movie just doesn’t sparkle enough to engage the audience. Still, it holds two of the best performances of last year, and is never less than intriguing in its exploration of 1950s America.

Yep... Anyone want to bet things are going to work out better this time around?

Yep... Anyone want to bet things are going to work out better this time around?

I wonder if the people who went to see this for the reteaming of Kate and Leo got what they were expecting? This is Jack and Rose grounded after the flirtation of Titanic, paying a mortgage and raising kids. Neither wants what they have, somehow expecting more. Maybe it’s arrogant to assume you’re better than the life you live, or maybe it’s only fair. The couple are at the same crossroads that they’ve been at for years now (likely a decade, looking at the age of their children). Neither is comfortable, but he can live with it. She can’t.

The movie (based on the novel) follows a brief reignition of their passion – fuelled by a prospective movie to France. Suddenly both are living  again, rather than going through the motions. No longer trying to keep his head down and no longer crippled by fear of losing his job, Frank gets noticed at work. At home they start smiling at one another, holding each other. Escape is, naturally, liberation.

Or is it? One of the smartest and best things the movie does is question whether the characters are excited by escape, or merely the prospect of escape. Maybe they never planned to follow through on this trip to France, but merely conned themselves into thinking they would. that way they get the same feeling of freedom, but without the risk of failure. Failure follows both characters closely – from April’s failures as a dramatic actress to Frank’s failure to become a better man than his father. Eventually failure doesn’t sting, it just numbs. And fear of failure paralyses.

This is great. It really is. The problem is that the movie doesn’t really engage with the audience. We see Frank and April and we follow both of them and – to some extent – we may sympathise with each, as we do with a stranger. We’re never given any reason to care. The film makes us incredibly passive observers in the tragedy that unfolds. Maybe we want to care, or amybe we don’t. Eitherway the film ends up illiciting the same sort of apathy in us as suburban life does in its leads.

I don’t know where the blame lies. I doubt it’s the cast. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are both as strong as ever. In the rare scenes where they are given the material to work wit they do it justice. There are two types of scenes where the movie manages to suck the audience in: the first is the no-holds-barred fighting between the two leads, which is expertly played on both sides, and the second is the type of scene featuring Michael Shannon. Shannon only appears twice in the film, but he manages to inject the scenes with a bit of life and energy that it seems to be lacking most of the time while he’s gone. It was truly an earned Oscar nomination, but I also think that the two leads also deserved recognition (Winslet is much better here than in The Reader, even if both films were intended Oscar bait for her).

The rest of the supporting cast is suitably top notch, most working in subtly ways. A hand gesture or a facial tic or a line delivery. Despite the monotony of the environment, most of the characters seem distinct and different. In particular I quite liked Jay Sanders as Bart in a firly minor role which he makes his with the most slime CEO body language I’ve seen in quite some tme.

The direction is very effective at establishing a place and a time and a mood. Mendes firmly establishes the monotony of every day life as well as he evokes the sense of soulless drifting that encompassed 1950s America. He gets good performances from his cast, but he can’t seem to quite connect it all. Maybe the dullness was an intended effect, but he never seems to be able to breath life into the film.

Maybe I’m being too mean. It is a solid and reliable film, technically well made and featuring strong performances all round. There’s also a lovely score that perhaps calls to mind American Beauty, a far superior exploration of similar themes by the same director. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe te movie is just too dark and depressing for its own good. Maybe the movie collapses under the weight of all those crushed dreams. I don’t believe it, if only because better movies have been made of darker material.

It’s well worth a look if you enjoyed the book or if the concept, leads or director interest you. It’s a ver well-made film, but t just seems to miss something. Perhaps Frank and April were looking in the wrong place for their joy de vivre. They’d never find it in this film.

_________________________________________________________________________

Revolutionary Road is directed by Sam Mendes (Away We Go, American Beauty) and stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island, Bood Diamond), Kate Winslet (The Reader, Heavenly Creatures), Kathy Bates (Misery, The Day the Earth Stood Still) and Dylan Baker (Spider-Man II). It was released in the US on 23rd January 2009 (with an earlier release for Oscar consideration) and in the UK and Ireland on 30th January 2009.

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2 Responses

  1. i have a movie blog as well! Yours is one of the nicer ones I’ve seen. You have some well written articles here and I whole heartedly agree how soul crushing depressing this movie is and it really made me develop a fear of suburban life lol. Keep up the good work.

  2. A deeply felt, moving and genuinely tragic study of a marriage tearing itself apart. With two great stars like Leo and Kate just acting their hearts out, you can’t help but get attached to this marriage. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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