Have you ever seen a movie that when you looked at both the premise and genre it seemed seem completely outside of anything you might even remotely enjoy, but you gave it a chance anyway due to the talent behind it? Call me shallow, but when I saw the premise of Revolutionary Road, a film about a young couple in 1950s America who are stuck in a downward spiral that eventually tears apart their marriage, I wasn't exactly desperate to watch it. But when I saw that the leads were played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, two actors who have proven themselves to be immensely talented and watchable, I perked up a little. I then discovered it was being directed by Sam Mendes who, bar the abomination known as Jarhead, has had a fairly spectacular track record thus far. And so, with anticipation, I sat down to watch Revolutionary Road.
As I mentioned, the film is set in 1950s America, and stars Kate Winslet and Leanardo DiCaprio as Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple with two kids who live in a nice white house on the titular Revolutionary Road. The film opens with a very brief sequence of how the pair met, before skipping ahead to the couple living out married life. Now the Wheeler's marriage is on the rocks, so much so that Frank takes to sleeping with a girl from his office for no specific reason. Noticing the dissipation of their married life, April convinces Frank that they should leave their life in America behind and move to Paris, so that Frank can discover his true ambition. However, events conspire to make the couple rethink this decision, which in turn causes their downfall, with the story leading to a surprisingly moving and emotional ending.
At first, I took issue with the premise of Revolutionary Road due to my own prejudices. I don't really like things set in 1950s/60s America, as I simply dislike the cultural aspect and style. However, I put this aside when I realised the film took part in that time period for a very specific reason, which was the dismantling of the concept known as the American Dream, with the film questioning what exactly constitutes as a worthwhile existence. April wishing to move to Paris to allow Frank to find his true calling seems to many like an idealized view of how to live one's life. It's not exactly a realistic proposal, and the film treats it as that. It's a fantasy, and the indication is given that April would far rather strive for this fantasy rather than be stuck on Revolutionary Road. While some think of the American Dream as the true fantasy, the film takes almost the complete opposite angle with the character of April. It becomes very apparent the cosy houses and the green gardens aren't what she wants. She doesn't consider it an existence worth living for, as there's nothing to the American Dream but empty hopelessness and meek existence.
Frank is the contrast to this. While he is at first ecstatic about moving to Paris, certain events that later unfold make him question this decision. He eventually succumbs to the temptation of the American Dream, and attempts to accept his boring and routine existence. This is where the conflict of Revolutionary Road stems from: April refuses to accept such a mundane existence which she despises, while Frank is willing to conform and do what he believes is the best for his family. The film allows itself to be examined from the perspective of both characters, and this is what works so well about it. April wants Frank to be happy by finding his true purpose and ambition, while Frank simply wants what is best for his family in terms of comfort, eventually coming to believe they could be truly happy in America as they could be anywhere else in the world. At their core, they are both empathetic characters, and the empathy we feel for them allows us to view the film on so many different levels. Two people could watch a dialogue scene between April and Frank and come away with varying conclusions due to each putting their focus on a different character, dissecting their motivations.
This subtlety is what makes the movie such a genuinely emotional and involving watch. There are no moments in which the audience is manipulated into feeling a certain way or moments that are ridiculously overblown for the sake of melodrama. Everything feels real and involving, with the emotion being presented with fair degree of subtlety. Nobody comes out and explains their emotions and motivations, and with this it never feels like Revolutionary Road is trying too hard to coerce feeling from the audience. All the emotion instead comes from the dialogue and acting.
Speaking of the acting, it's probably the best thing out of the whole damn movie. Kate Winslet continues to prove she is fantastic with just about everything thrown at her, and it's a shame she won the Best Actress Oscar for the mediocre The Reader rather than this. The only real negative thing I can say about her performance is that occasionally it can be somewhat dull, but she makes up for it with a fiery intensity in later scenes. Leonardo DiCaprio is just as excellent, being able to present arrogance, rage and a very believable bitterness, while still being able to hold the audience's sympathy.
Don't get me wrong however; Revolutionary Road is by no means perfect. There are some pacing issues, and the secondary characters aren't anywhere near the quality of the leads, but that doesn't really matter. Sam Mendes has taken what is an almost over simplified premise and spun it into something deep and meaningful, dissecting far more than just the troubled antics of a married couple falling out of love. It's not for everyone, as there are no 'big' moments aside from the ending. Most of the film is handled simply with fantastic acting and writing, and because of this I feel there is more of an emotional depth than many films which try and manipulate the viewer into feeling for the characters because of some set-piece moment that doesn't feel earned, but I guess that's something we can discuss further when it comes to Snow Angels, which we shall discuss in length, say... Tomorrow? Excellent. See you there.