Friday, January 30, 2009

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD - strong performances trump mannered direction

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is a beautifully scripted and performed tragedy about a failed marriage in 1950s American suburbia. Frank and April Wheeler believe in fictionalised versions of themselves - talented, bohemian, decidedly not second-rate. April says that callow, banal Frank is the most interesting person she's ever met. It's patently obvious to us that this reflects her day-dream rather than reality.  The reality is that, seven years later, Frank works a dull job in an office cubicle and April is a housewife in a banal town. April attempts to shake them out of the rut by persuading Frank to quit his job, sell the house, and take April and the kids to Paris. She'll work, he'll find himself, and they'll fix their marriage. The tragedy is that April really hates her life and wants to see the dream through. Frank discovers he actually rather likes being the high-earning paterfamilias. Or maybe he's just afraid that there's nothing to find?  April feels betrayed.

The movie is based on the superb novel by Richard Yates - a novel I only recently read and thoroughly enjoyed. Justin Haythe's script stays faithful to the content and style of the novel. His one key departure is to give the Wheeler's neighbours' son, John, more time. John, on a home visit from electro-shock treatments in an asylum, sees through all the pretense. He sees through the myth of suburban contentment but also through the Wheeler's attempt to portray himself as "special". His analysis is piercing and Michael Shannon truly steals every scene he's in with his powerful, menacing performance. He deserves his Oscar nom, if only as delayed recognition from his even better performance in Billy Friedkin's BUG.

What of the rest? Yes, Kate Winslet is superb as April Wheeler, with a raw and affecting performance that I think trumps her work in THE READER. I was also impressed by the maturity and nuance in Leonardo di Caprio's performance as Frank. Kathy Bates and Zoe Kazan (as Maureen) are particularly strong in support. And any movie photographed by Roger Deakins looks great. Where the movie falls down is in its direction. There was something rather obvious and lazy in Sam Mendes' concept for the movie: the perfectly pastel costumes and decor; the overly-insistent score; the obvious shot of Frank running near the end of the movie. I far preferred what Stephen Daldry did with the Mrs Brown segment in THE HOURS or what Todd Field did with LITTLE CHILDREN (though that was also a flawed film.)  There was nothing in this film that surprised me or shook me  or impressed me in the direction.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is on release in the US, Germany, Austria, Norway, Belgium, Egypt, France, Australia, Croatia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Chile, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Russia and Slovakia. It opens today in the UK, Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Mexico, Poland and Sweden. It opens on February 6th in Turkey; February 12th in South Korea and February 19th in Singapore.

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