Short version: If you’re looking for an intense, character-driven movie, Revolutionary Road delivers big time.

Screen Rant reviews Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road is an obvious Oscar contender on many levels – Acting (lead and supporting), direction, screenplay… you name it. As the film begins, I started to feel like this was a Titanic reunion, putting Leonardo DiCaprio opposite Kate Winslet once again, with Kathy Bates thrown in for good measure.

The film opens with a younger (and single) Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) meeting at a party or club and instantly hitting it off. The movie then jumps forward to April at the end of a very small stage production which is not exactly knocking over the audience with its quality.

Frank seems to be very supportive of April, who seems very distraught, consoling her as best he can on the drive home. She wants to hear none of it and when he pulls over to discuss it things blow up into full-on argument. He’s tired of coddling her and her dreams of being an actress, and wants her to accept reality. She belittles him and leaves him feeling supremely frustrated.

The film takes place in 1955 and Frank works in a cubicle of the day in a “Mad Men” environment. It’s a low level executive job where he and his co-workers just go through the motions of their decent paying but dead end jobs. Frank eyes a pretty young secretary and ends up seducing her over a three martini lunch.

At this point it seems that April has driven him to cheat via her lack of respect for him as a man, but as you watch the film it is clear that there is always going to be another level to what is happening with the characters. In an extremely ironic twist, Frank comes home that evening to a wife that is dressed to the nines and meets him at the door in loving, iconic 1950s fashion. It’s his birthday and she seems to have completely turned around her attitude as she and their two children wish him a happy birthday.

Apparently the crux of the matter is that April believes that they were both meant for much better things, and certainly not a mundane life in the suburbs with two kids. She comes up with a plan for them to chuck it all and move to Paris where she will support him so that he can “find what he’s meant to do.” At first he’s reluctant (and full of the common sense reasons why they shouldn’t do it), but he succumbs pretty quickly with a “why not?”

From there things improve dramatically between Frank and April (known in the neighborhood as “The Wheelers,” the perfect couple). Just the decision to change their lives makes them feel free even though they won’t be moving for a few months. Expectedly, everyone they know is incredulous and thinks they’re nuts.

Speaking of “nuts,” one of the outstanding characters in the film is the son of Kathy Bates’ character, John. He’s played by Michael Shannon, who will no doubt be competition for Heath Ledger in the Best Supporting Actor category at the Oscars next month. Shannon plays an emotionally disturbed man who has been put in a psychiatric ward by his mother. She thinks meeting with the “cosmopolitan” Wheelers will be good for him. He does a fantastic job, and in the end despite his barely contained rage he seems like the most clear-headed and sane person in the film.

He says exactly what is on his mind with no fear of consequences, and although his comments are usually tough to take, they’re also right on the mark. Really a riveting performance, and he has some of the best lines in the film.

But back to the story – as expected things don’t just go on to a happy ending with Frank and April, and director Sam Mendes manages to keep a subtle sense of foreboding throughout the film. He manages to make the viewer feel a definite sense of unease and every time things take a turn for the better you just know it won’t last.

Revolutionary Road is an excellently crafted film: The script is intricate, the performances real and the direction is great. The film immerses you completely in the 1950s, at times instilling a sense of nostalgia while at others making us think about how far we’ve come since then. It’s based on a book that I haven’t read – actually I went in thinking I was going to be seeing a completely different movie so I took it in completely “cold,” with no expectations. I didn’t even know what film it was until the title credit appeared a few minutes into the film.

Leo DiCaprio turns in another great performance (finally beardless once again in a film appearance), but Kate Winslet really steals it from him. She is amazing in the film and looks surprisingly older (the last thing I saw her in was Titanic). Actually I thought about that film a lot while watching this one – it occurred to me that this could be the story of Jack and Rose if he had not frozen to death at the end of that film.

Winslet has stated that she thought her character in the film was heroic, fighting desperately to have the life she really wanted. DiCaprio described his character as “cowardly,” afraid to go after his dreams. While I would agree that his character could at times be described that way, or maybe more accurately as having self-doubt, to me April came across as selfish and almost mentally ill. While he may have been afraid of change, she was devoid of any sense of responsibility to anyone but herself, despite being a mother of two children.

Revolutionary Road is the type of film that makes you very conscious that you’re watching a movie. By that I mean that while it was engrossing, I always felt like I was on the outside looking in – sort of like watching bugs in a jar. The performances are so good and what the characters went through was fascinating, yet the film somehow never sucked me all the way in – I was always aware I was watching something from the outside.

if you’re bothered by the occaisonal F-bomb and sexual situations, this may not be for you, however if you’re looking for a character-driven movie you can really sink your teeth into, this is definitely for you. I often complain about lack of character development in movies, but this film has it in spades.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5