Revolutionary Road (2008) – Film Review

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Adapted from Richard Yates’ era defining novel, Revolutionary Road is a powerful portrait of the troubling consequences that arise from one’s desire to be an individual in a world of clones. MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS

Set in 1940’s and 1950’s America, the film’s central themes of patriarchy and repression are quickly identified as its major causal factors, as we see Frank and April’s loving relationship collapse after their dreams are judged, scrutinized and undermined by their tragically conformist friends. Director Sam Mendes’ realist, observational style acts to emphasis this constant back and forth battle between emancipation and entrapment as it unravels with an emotional intensity that is both fascinating and a true difficulty to watch.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (their second collaboration after James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’) portray Frank and April Wheeler with raw humanity and emotional openness, making every aspect of their lives unquestionably honest. When they meet at a party and fall madly in love with each other it is movingly authentic; when they begin to deeply resent one another it is entirely understandable. Further to this, DiCaprio and Winslet have a unique chemistry as actors that is rare and enthralling, making every scene that they share together a memorable moment in what feels like a fly-on-the wall documentary examining the very nature of relationships placed under severe pressure.

Thomas Newman’s soundtrack is a wonderful achievement. As with his previous film’s, he manages to create varying different tones and moods that reflect the distinct stages of the Wheeler’s journey through life: they begin lovestruck, grow into a position of dissatisfaction, manage to find hope, and eventually sink into despair as their dreams fall apart, leaving them in a position of toxic hatred for one another.

The unflinching, realist nature of this narrative can be seen as a fundamental component of Mendes’ directorial style. In American Beauty, he follows a very similar structure that seeks to point out the superficiality of relationships and life as they are depicted not only in Hollywood, but also through the notion of the American dream. Therefore it can be said that he takes an anti-mainstream approach to filmmaking by tackling subjects that are essentially about individuals who challenge society’s standards of behaviour. The primary difference, however, is that American Beauty explores the life of a man (Lester Burnham played by Kevin Spacey) who liberates himself from his cultural restraints, whilst Revolutionary Road is about the plight of a couple who fight against the ideals of a nation.

Perhaps the film’s narrative point of view is most apparent through the character of John, played by Michael Shannon with unnerving force. He is the son of an older, more conventional couple who commonly visit the Wheeler’s, however he is absolutely nothing like his parents. In fact, he is an intelligent truth teller who constantly urges the Wheeler’s to follow through with their plan to move to Paris regardless of popular opinion. Subsequently, he is outraged when he hears that Frank has decided to continue working in New York, claiming that he is weak for sacrificing his own values for a greater sense of safety and security. This can be seen as a commentary on the situation which seeks to establish that individuals are not victims of society as they possess freedom of choice.

April’s harrowing death after she attempts to abort her own child advances the idea that individuals ultimately have control over their own lives, leaving the audience with a bittersweet ending. Society is clearly the catalyst of Frank and April’s suffering, however they are ultimately in a position of power, and this knowledge offers us a renewed sense of strength undercut by a tragic feeling of lost opportunity.

IMDB rating: 7.4/10

My rating: 8/10

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