DreamWorks // 2008 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // June 2nd, 2009
How do you break free without breaking apart?
DiCaprio and Winslet, together again -- more than ten years after being the King of the World and one of the only survivors in Titanic, Revolutionary Road gives this pair a chance to show off all that they've learned about acting in the ensuing years -- and it's electric.
April (Kate Winslet, The Reader) and Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed) are a young married couple in 1950s suburbia. He's got a good job, she stays home with their two kids, and collectively they would seem to have it pretty good. But neither is very happy; he cheats, she fumes, and they both argue fiercely. On Frank's thirtieth birthday, April presents the idea that they move to Paris, where she'll get a lucrative secretarial job, and Frank will be free to discover his passion, and they'll both live happily ever after. While this initially seems to solve all the problems of their marriage, it's not long before discontentment creeps its way back into their lives.
Some films are haunting. Their imagery, characterizations, and bits of insight into the human condition stay with you, stuck in your head, being tossed and turned and processed. They might be disturbing, unexpectedly uplifting, or decidedly out of left field, and these films aren't always that pleasant to watch. When they're over, though, the power of well-made cinema is impossible to deny. Revolutionary Road is a haunting film.
Crafted with unrelenting precision, every element of Revolutionary Road is designed to accomplish a specific goal, and it's really quite beautiful to behold. There's a shot late in the picture of Kate Winslet, from behind, standing at the window in her suburban home that is devastatingly powerful, offering the perfect summation of the story we have watched unfold (you'll know it when you see it). Roger Deakins' typically outstanding photography leads the way, but it's made possible by top-notch production design and costuming, which capture the period in an engrossing, rather than distracting, execution. While the movie may be set in the 1950s, it never goes out of its way to advertise that fact -- like LA Confidential, the setting is secondary to the story being told. It's remarkable that the problems of the 1950s could seem so modern.
This ballad of Frank and April is an American tragedy, showing us the disintegration of a marriage thanks to unfulfilled dreams, miscommunication, co-dependence, and the shifting of blame. April's repressed desire to be an actress drives her actions throughout the piece. She crafts her plan to move to Paris because she wants Frank to live the life he's always wanted, as if making him happier would rub off on her, yet -- other than a brief flashback -- we have no reason to believe Frank is driven to shake up his life as much as he might claim. It's April's own misery that makes Frank question his own happiness and leads to him lashing out so terribly at her. Indeed, Frank's lack of support and his meanness when challenged are some of the most difficult elements of Revolutionary Road to witness. She makes more than her share of complaints, and DiCaprio makes Frank as sympathetic as possible without altering his nature, but I found myself dreading what he might say to April next. Before the opening title appears, we're shown how explosive the couple can be, and that informs an undertow of tension flowing beneath each scene, whether it's depicting good times or bad.
The success or failure of a work as character driven as Revolutionary Road hinges on the quality of the acting, and here there is an embarrassment of riches. DiCaprio and Winslet, of course, lead the way, showing remarkable commitment to their roles. They could have easily softened the rough edges and made things a bit less caustic, but instead they commit completely to scenes when they're both madly in love and at each others' throats. Credit is due to both stars for the movie's most heartbreaking moments. The supporting cast is extremely strong as well, especially Michael Shannon (World Trade Center) as the mental patient who tells more truth than anyone else in the piece, and Zoe Kazan (In the Valley of Elah) as a secretary falling victim to Frank's predatory ways who's not as helpless as she first appears. Kathy Bates (Misery, Richard Easton (Finding Forrester), and Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers) round out this excellent ensemble.
Sam Mendes' films are always visually stunning, and this Blu-ray delivers a wholly satisfying experience of his vision. A light, fine sheen of grain coats the image, especially noticeable in the taupe walls of the Wheeler's home and in shots of the blue sky. Edge enhancement, even in high-contrast transitions (of which there are relatively few), doesn't seem to have been applied; I noticed no haloing, compression artifacts, or digital noise. As you would expect of a recent film, the print is pristine, with no dirt or scratches to mar the image. The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD, and is more subtle but just as effective as the visuals. Quiet ambience is almost always present, and dialogue is clear and clean; despite some very dynamic arguments, which must have been challenging for the sound department to say the least, voices never tear. Thomas Newman's score is warm, poignant, and nicely balanced with the other elements.
Special features are quite good, starting with a chatty and engaging commentary by Sam Mendes (Jarhead) and writer Justin Haythe (The Clearing). Next up are about 25 minutes of deleted scenes, all well-written and well-acted, but also moments that the movie does well enough without. There's a making-of featurette that's fairly comprehensive, if somewhat shallow, a featurette on author Richard Yates, and the theatrical trailer. All are in high definition.
I found Revolutionary Road to be a highly enjoyable picture, with craftspeople operating at the top of their game in every element. I also found the film hard to shake, a hallmark of a film bound to grow in importance as time goes on. Highly recommended, especially this excellent Blu-ray.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R