Written by Justin Haythe and based on a novel by Richard Yates
Directed by Sam Mendes
Marriage is a two-way street. The union of a man and woman is basically a tug of war and it is a battle fought in many arenas. One arena is the suburbs and while a married couple with kids in this environment seems copacetic, one must look a bit deeper to unravel the mystery: the pain, resentment and utter chaos that lies beneath. One film that explores the woes and occasional hell of marriage is 2008’s intense and truly gripping drama Revolutionary Road. Based on Richard Yates 1961 novel of the same name, it is a picture that sums up all the torment and bitter realities that sometimes come with married life.
The film takes place in the 1950s, a time which many Americans still perceive as the height The American Dream with visions of a squeaky clean existence full of limitless possibilities. Young couple Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) have just stepped into this “dream” and while they appear to be happy and well adjusted, they hide a growing resentment for one another and a strong distaste for the life they’ve constructed together. Their plans are ever-changing with Frank bored at his mundane office job and April on the verge of a nervous breakdown with her aspirations of being an actress dashed with a disastrous stage performance and not to mention a new pregnancy. Both characters are pretty much losing their grip on reality and are slowly spiraling downward into their own private hells.
Revolutionary Road is a bittersweet affair through and through with a lot more bitter than sweet. DiCaprio and Winslet are sublime in roles which seem like they were tailor made for the actors. Each conveys a sense of longing and loss and while they look happy, they are far from it. Reunited 11 years after another doomed romance in 1997’s Titanic, the two attractive and highly capable leads have shown maturity since the sunken ship brought them together in the first place. Both show a supreme command over the material here and it is a pleasure to watch no matter how depressing the plot.
Director Sam Mendes has returned to the suburbs with Revolutionary Road. He made some serious waves with 1999’s Oscar-winning American Beauty, another suburban tragedy which highlights the nuances and trappings of married life. Revolutionary Road continues in this vein but during a different era however one might argue that the conflicts and themes are pretty much identical. Frank and April want different things and their union is sadly crumbling. Throughout the film, their relationship has many ups and downs, from a roadside verbal altercation to a kitchen intercourse sequence to a few more verbal altercations and eventually an unfazed April not seeming to care about Frank’s affair with an office tart. All of these instances are perfectly framed by Mendes and his precision as a stage director translates very well to film.
Everything about Revolutionary Road is crafted beautifully. From Justin Haythe’s strong script adapted from Yates’ novel to the 50s-style production which includes everything from the sets, cars, clothes and at times, even the dialogue. You fully believe that everything you see on screen is from the 50s and that is the magic of this film. The exterior is glossy with many scenes taking place during the daytime. This bright lighting is the perfect cover for the darkness that lies beneath. It is a brilliant symbolic stroke and director Mendes along with cinematographer Roger Deakins should be commended for that.
With a bevy of awards and nominations, Revolutionary Road is truly a work of art. The troubled marriage could not have been pulled off by a better pair of actors than DiCaprio and Winslet. The tension is palpable in many of the scenes they’re in together and their relationship feels real. Though the film is sad to watch, it is also a delight. It’s a strange paradox and the viewer may feel a variety of emotions. Frank and April certainly go at it in Revolutionary Road and it may seem like the rings on their fingers are tiny handcuffs which have each character trapped and confined to total misery. With life throwing curve balls and love not always black and white, Revolutionary Road shows an honest depiction and a vividly real picture of what married life can be like.