A pure Oscar-bait type of movie, through and through — a period-piece drama starring awards-vetted actors, based on a respected novel, under the direction of an established filmmaker — Revolutionary Road centers on Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, reuniting for the first time since Titanic), a young married Connecticut couple who, in the 1950s, have two kids and come to feel, each in their own way, irredeemably weighed down and oppressed by the monotony of suburban life they’ve default-embraced.
Neither Frank’s cushy, well-paying advertising job, nor a friendly relationship with neighbors Milly and Shep Campbell (Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour) can dull the tiny razors of ennui. In fact, over time, all that pre-formatted comfort and familiarity seems to be a big part of what wears Frank and April thin, and leads to the sort of emotional separation that eventually breeds infidelity. That the rest of the movie is generally paced like an ambling, summer night’s post-dinner stroll helps Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Michael Shannon blow in and steal a number of scenes, based on sheer energy. He plays John, the blunt-spoken, not-quite-right son of Helen Givings (Kathy Bates), the Wheelers’ real estate agent, and when eschews social niceties and upsets the prim-and-proper conventions of the time and place during a pair of afternoon tea sessions, it’s like a welcome electrical storm in an otherwise uninterrupted stream of muggy, overcast but rainless evenings.
Look, without launching into a more intellectually robust dismissal, or re-posting my original theatrical review, which came under contract for an outlet with whom I do not have reprint rights, Revolutionary Road is an ornate, full-bodied drama in which all the proper levers of the craft of filmmaking are pulled, with earnestness and passion. Its artistic execution is pretty much unassailable. It looks fantastic, courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins, who expertly uses light to capture both the sunny charms and eventual sense of preordained suffocation of upper-middle class white America, circa 1955.
“And yet” — well, those are the two words I found hanging around in my head for almost the entire running time of the film, and long afterward. I never felt fully persuaded or caught up in the dramatic stakes of the movie, and DiCaprio, a fine actor, can’t quite ever wrap his mouth around curse words in convincing fashion. When he swears — especially in frothy rage, as he’s required to here — he sounds like a kid who’s wandered into a group of his older brother’s friends, and is trying to impress some girl via blustery badassedness. Mostly, though, Revolutionary Road is damningly hamstrung by a presented fork in the road — Frank and April entertaining the notion of ditching suburbia and heading off to France — that we as the audience know is never going to happen. It would be one thing if the story hit this beat and moved on, but the movie chews up an awful lot of ground peddling this non-starter of a twist. Consequently, I just felt far out in front of it, wondering — if one will permit the indulgence of a Simpsons reference — when the film and its makers were going to quit jerking me around and get to the fireworks factory.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Revolutionary Road comes presented via a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with English, French and Spanish Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks, plus optional subtitles in each of the aforementioned languages. A full-length audio commentary track with Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe kicks off the slate of supplemental features, and the pair have a nice rapport, sharing anecdotes and doling out major props to Deakins and the “happy accident” of capturing the loneliness beyond the characters, as rendered in flickering lights and a lakeside reflection on glass during a bout of automotive lovemaking.
Running just under a half-hour is a making-of featurette packed with insights from cast and crew, and some cool behind-the-scenes footage (over 200 extras being outfitted and handed reprints of commuter newspapers, and Deakins rigging up white sheets off of which to bounce light). Production designer Kristi Zea talks about the important selection of the movie’s house, albeit as if the notion of smaller domestic square footage in 1955 is a great shock to her. In mixed interview footage from the set and the movie’s promotional junket, Mendes, sometimes sporting a beard, sometimes clean shaven, describes the movie as a “tragic love story, set in the 1950s, but dealing with very modern concerns.” Winslet, meanwhile, says it’s “about marriage, and how honesty must be present in underpinnings.”
Of perhaps the most interest is the movie’s meandering path to the big screen, though. Producer John Hart played shepherd to the project, and Winslet initially read it over four years ago, when pregnant with her son. She began planting seeds with DiCaprio — plying him slowly, she says — and then pressured Mendes into taking it on. For his part, Mendes, who pulled in producers Bobby Cohen and Scott Rudin, and says he always loved the script, copped to needing to take some time to be extra sure of tackling the movie, because of the scrutiny involved in collaborating with his wife.
There are also five deleted scenes, including an argument in front of the kids while Frank is cutting the grass and, most notably, a scene in which a slightly buzzed Frank talks about a birthday he had during the war, and how he was sung to by an entire division. The quiet punch of the scene, underscoring the nodding suburban repetitiveness of Frank and April’s lives, comes when it turns out he told the same story previously, a year earlier. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)