DVD Review: Revolutionary Road
I didn’t hate Revolutionary Road nearly as much as I expected to. Far from high praise, I know, but I don’t really like movies like this. I think the idea of exposing the dark underbelly of apparent suburban bliss is one that’s been pretty well-mined over the past few decades, and I find that idea explored in 1950s America particularly tiresome (and life was definitely less-than-perfect for you back then if you weren’t a white male). I guess it’s because I know things weren’t as warm and fuzzy and happy in the ‘50s as the popular American cultural fiction goes that that juxtaposition between the fantasy and reality holds almost no dramatic impact for me; much of the same awful stuff that happens today happened back then too, it just wasn’t really talked about. It’s a concept that even Revolutionary Road director Sam Mendes himself explored previously in the overrated American Beauty, and while Revolutionary Road is based on the acclaimed novel by Richard Yates and reunites Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, it’s a movie that ultimately doesn’t say as much as it wants to.
The film follows a young married couple going through some rocky times. Actually those rocky times appear to start almost immediately after the wedding; because the couple is pretty much always fighting about something, it makes Revolutionary Road quite a downer to watch, like spending two hours trapped in a room with your arguing parents. It’s not exactly a light Friday night rental, and may be one of the worst date movies of the past five years. It starts off with the DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s characters meeting at a party, jump-cuts to them being married and miserable an undetermined number of years later, and things just get more depressing from there. They’re both miserable in their cookie-cutter existences, and while there’s a plot about a plan to drop everything and move to Paris with their two kids, the movie’s really just about them coming to terms with the reality of their lives in conformity-obsessed 1950s America.
The best thing about Revolutionary Road is easily the acting. Everyone in the movie is excellent, with DiCaprio and Winslet both doing great work (Winslet earned a Golden Globe for her performance). The other actor that really stood out for me was Michael Shannon, who was one of the guys who lost to Heath Ledger for best supporting actor at the Oscars earlier this year. Shannon’s an actor I’ve been reading and hearing about for a while, but Revolutionary Road was the first thing I actually saw him in, and he’s brilliant. He’s only in a handful of scenes, playing a mathematician recently released from a mental asylum following a breakdown. Because the world of Revolutionary Road revolves entirely around appearances and status (“What will the neighbors think?!??”), his lack of any sort of social filter allows him to say things that nobody else is willing to, and his role as a sort of one-man Greek chorus injects the movie with new life every time he shows up.
Revolutionary Road is also a great-looking movie. While I’m not a fan of Mendes’ films in general, the man knows how make a movie look nice, and with the help of cinematographer Roger Deakins (who shoots most of the Coen brothers’ movies), Revolutionary Road never looks less that fantastic.
The worst criticism I can level at Revolutionary Road is that it deals with subjects that, for the most part, other films do a better job with. The first example that came to my mind while watching it was director Todd Field’s 2006 film Little Children, partly because that film also stars Kate Winslet as an unhappy suburban housewife (she also netted an Oscar nomination for it). That movie’s set in the modern day, but it’s also about the illusion of happiness and how the suburbs can become a gilded prison. But Field’s film, which is also based on a well-regarded novel, has a sense of humor about itself, and I ultimately found the characters – even a child-molester! – more relatable than I found the characters in Revolutionary Road. (I’ll stop the Little Children comparisons now, but seriously, it’s an excellent film and I recommend it highly.)
Revolutionary Road is a film that I didn’t particularly like, but not necessarily because it’s bad; it just didn’t resonate with me the way it meant to. While I wasn’t that taken with it, your mileage may vary.
The Revolutionary Road DVD has a nice collection of features. There’s commentary from director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe. I found the track to be fairly dry and uninteresting myself, but my apathy towards the film itself may have been a factor. There’s also a nicely in-depth mini-documentary on the making of the movie featuring interviews with the cast and crew, and a handful of deleted scenes with optional commentary from Mendes and Haythe.
Labels: DVD review
A blog about movies, by a guy who probably watches too many.