Manuel Betancourt

Revolutionary Road, or How suburban ennui never goes out of style

December 11, 2008 · in Uncategorized

Revolutionary Road
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Justin Haythe
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates, Zoe Kazan & Michael Shannon

There are moments in a movie that so perfectly encapsulate the mood, tone, look and rhythm of a film and its performers that you just have to sit back and catch your breath. Revolutionary Road, adapted from the Richard Yates novel of the same name, has many such moments but one in particular still haunts me. April and Frank (Kate and Leo) are at the dinner table joined by the Givings (including their clinically insane son John – an electric Michael Shannon). Lunch is yet to be served, so the conversation steers in an awkward direction when John, seeing past the well polished facade of the Wheelers, hits a couple of nerves with his wildly inappropriate (though for that, no less accurate) remarks about the Wheelers’ plans. It’s a moment that offers these very gifted actors a well-written and staged scene: Frank loses his temper, Mrs Givings swoops in to avoid a physical confrontation, John cackles an lashes out at the couple; and April… well, she just sits still holding her cigarette looking ahead even when John is raising his voice and uttering one of the most searing lines in the entire film. Winslet – a truly remarkable force in this film, shines in this scene for the amount of emotions she manages to portray in a single look. After the Givings leave, Mendes has a close up of Kate with Leo squirming in the background unable to contain his emotions; but all we’re focused on is Kate’s face – stern, thoughtful, impossibly at ease.

In a way this scene epitomises what the film is about – in a way it is a battle of wills that echoes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but it is also much more introspective (look out for the constant close ups of April as she turns a teary eye into a faked smile; and of Frank as he contracts his face, always so at odds in showing how he claims he feels) and more focused on small moments (the breakfast table, a dance at a party) that spiral into big blown out fight scenes (outside the car, around the house). The Wheelers seem unhappy, and maybe they are, but both are so enraptured by their seemingness that is hard to get at what each really wants – it is not for nothing that Mendes turns again and again to shots of mirrors and reflective surfaces, reminding his audience that what these characters show is almost if not more important than what they are, think and feel. And that in itself is the true tragedy of this suburban couple that so vividly comes to life in the hands of two actors that in a decade of working apart come together to give us another tragically romantic story of a couple at odds with what the world has to offer them.

Mendes and his production team deserve a shout out for making this aching story such a beauty to watch: Roger Deakins’ cinematography beautifully plays with sunlit rooms that defy their own promise of warmth and homeliness; Kristi Zea’s production design meticulously recreates this mythic landscape of American suburbia; Albert Wolsky’s costumes are gorgeous (I fell in love with each of April’s dresses, and loved seeing 1950s beach wear) and lastly Thomas Newman (who already won me over with his WALL-E score earlier in the year) here just blew me away with a score that simmers and soars apace with Yates’ creations. A