Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as April and Frank Wheeler in Sam Mendes' new film "Revolutionary Road".    (Photo: Francois Duhamel)

In 1950's Suburban America: A Marriage Where One And One Doesn't Always Equal Two
By Omar P.L. Moore/January 2, 2009

It's been more than 11 years since Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's onscreen characters defied convention and class boundaries in the multiple-Oscar winning "Titanic", and in Sam Mendes' new film "Revolutionary Road" (expanding today in San Francisco and other U.S. cities while continuing its theatrical run in New York City and Los Angeles), the pair attempt to break from the yolk of expectation in their married life in 1950's suburban America as a beautiful and cantankerous Connecticut couple whose bickering abates when April suggests Paris as a means for escape from the daily banality of a homogeneous landscape and existence that has heretofore suffocated them.  Frank is agreeable to April's Disney Wonderland-sounding adventure proposal: ditch the housewife routine, quit the breadwinner job at a machine sales company, scoop up the two kids and jettison Eisenhower's America for De Gaulle's France.

Sounds innocent enough, no?

The Wheelers' neighbors The Campbells (played by David Harbour and Kathyrn Hahn) think they are off their rockers, as do Frank's work colleagues (Dylan Baker and Keith Reddin) and perhaps his boss (Jay O. Sanders).  But what do Frank and April really think about the idea of leaving America behind? 

In his films Sam Mendes has always dealt with the melancholy and doom lurking just beneath the surface of America.  The Oscar-winning "American Beauty" turned the beauty of America inside out with a lacerating and bullying satire of contemporary American life; "The Road To Perdition" shredded an American-as-apple-pie image of Tom Hanks, who played a cold-blooded killer whose kills are artfully photographed by a 1930's Annie Leibowitz-type whose photos are an inverted statement and an indictment of America's romanticism of glamour and violence; "Jarhead" was an unromanticized journey of one man's descent into the inferno of war.  With "Revolutionary Road" Ms. Winslet's husband manages to make a watchable film, though the discomfort factor can't help but rear its head.  Based on Richard Yates' much-talked about novel of the same name, and adapted for the screen by Justin Haythe, "Revolutionary Road" tracks the complexities of marriage and what happens, as Paul Laurence Dunbar would say, to a dream deferred.  Do time and circumstance dictate the ability to achieve true freedom or are society's rules and conformities (especially in highly conservative 1950's America) the enemy of the Wheeler's adulthood ambitions?

April Wheeler may shed some light on answers to the above questions thanks to Kate Winslet's quietly powerful performance which will finally assure her Oscar glory next month.  Ms. Winslet had an excellent 2008 with "The Reader" and with "Revolutionary Road" (which arrived in New York and Los Angeles in late 2008,) she cements herself as one of the world's best silver screen actresses.  Among her many talents Ms. Winslet knows how to seize a moment on film by dramatizing it in a such an incidental way.  The camera does the rest.  The acting Kate Winslet displays here is not dissimilar from her stunning work in the 2006 film "Little Children", but the subtleties are far more pronounced.  Here, Ms. Winslet hones silences into a fine art, embracing them with a fierce urgency that is crystallized by a distant glare, the solitary language of the unyielding defiance of a 1950's American housewife.  There are at least three moments in the film's second half where Ms. Winslet is on another acting plane from everyone else, including the very good and soon-to-be Oscar nominated Michael Shannon ("Before The Devil Knows You're Dead"), who plays John Givings, a mentally challenged man who says the most inconvenient but truthful things that everyone else in the room is only thinking.  John is the 80,000-pound elephant in the room who spews the muck from his metaphorical trunk and stains his previously-amused audience with it.  He may be ailed mentally but he has courage: the one thing the more able-minded folk around him lack in spades.

Meanwhile, Mr. DiCaprio tries to get underneath Frank Wheeler but doesn't quite succeed, for all his intensity.  You can see him pouring everything he has into the character of Frank, a somewhat passive-aggressive man who is awash in a fantastical magic carpet ideal and cloaked in entitlement and self-righteousness  -- and is as shallow as his own craving soul -- but for whatever reason Mr. DiCaprio isn't as nuanced as the story's complex landscape demands.  Maybe he isn't supposed to be though, and that may well be the overall point the film is making about Frank as a being trapped in his own longing and isolation, not unlike his wife.  As a film "Revolutionary Road", for those who haven't read Mr. Yates' book (myself included), offers sharp turns and descents into perilous terrain with that "husband and wife stuff", a line that Ashley Judd's character curtly threw at Robert De Niro's in "Heat" (1995).  That "stuff" is the best thing about Mr. Mendes' film, which aside from its gripping and jarring episodes of tension and discovery, is an otherwise mundane affair.

With: Kathy Bates and Richard Easton as Helen and Howard Givings, and Zoe Kazan as Maureen Grube.

"Revolutionary Road" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for some language and sexual content/nudity.  The film's duration is one hour and 59 minutes.  Released by Paramount Vantage.  "Reservation Road" further expands its release in the U.S. and in Canada on January 9, 16 and 23, as well as around the globe.

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Related: Kate And Leo, Together Again In Rebellion

Related: "Revolutionary Road" photo gallery - photos by Francois Duhamel

Related: Kate Winslet and Awards Season 2009

Related: The Popcorn Reel Hot Minute YouTube Review of "Revolutionary Road"


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