Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Revolutionary Road (2008)

Revolutionary Road is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Since 1961, when Richard Yates’ great novel Revolutionary Road was published, it has become thoroughly frequent to see “daring” artists scrape at the layers of happiness covering both suburbia and the 1950s and 60s to find the hopelessness and emptiness within. The biggest danger in adapting the book to film now is in failing to making what was original exciting once more. Director Sam Mendes fails for the most part. This is fairly routine stuff at times. The book’s greatest strength is its fluid prose which floats through character’s heads. We see motivation and emotion effortlessly woven and incorporated into character’s actions. As good as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are as performers, they don’t manage to convey the same intensity of purpose. For all the great histrionics of their acting they don’t dig into the roles. Here they become examples of Age-Appropriate-Dialogue-Delivery Devices, to use the astute nomenclature of the great Sam Van Hallgren.

But there are moments of visual perfection: a sea of top hats flowing into a subway station, a group of children staring at the television unaware of their father’s voice. But for every scene of effortless emotional twinge that the pictoral vision can evoke, even great early moments like the one that finds DiCaprio returning home from an affair in the city to be greeted by his children was done better by the TV show Mad Men. A curious thing about the movie, though, is that, although it starts by sputtering its engine, once it roars to life it has a pretty good roar.

The roar is due, in no small part, to the great supporting cast. David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn are perfect as a middle-class post-war all-American couple slowly colliding with the façade of the suburbs. Maybe they should have been the leads. But knocking everyone else in the cast out of the ballpark are Michael Shannon and Kathy Bates who are operating on another level altogether. They know just the way the material should be handled. Why didn’t anyone else (other than Harbour and Hahn) catch on? Even if the movie doesn’t, maybe even couldn’t, have the same wallop as the novel, the end still manages to deliver its plot twist with a satisfyingly sickening crunch – a sort of sick cinematic flip to the saccharine sacrifice that caps Kate and Leo’s Titanic. The extent that it does work I found a little surprising considering pessimism is much more relatable from the inside out and Mendes keeps the film firmly entrenched on the outside.

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