Revolutionary Road is a sobering yet intriguing tale of conformity and suburban discontent, using the disintegration of a marriage to illustrate how the dreams of two former free spirits has turned sour. Set in 1955, the plot focuses on the hopes and aspirations of the ambitious Frank and April Wheeler, who leave the city to raise their children in the Connecticut suburbs, where they see themselves as very different from their neighbors in the Revolutionary Hill Estates.
The film is notable for being directed by Sam Mendes, but mostly for its reuniting of Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank) and Kate Winslet (April). Very different from Titanic, this film manages to emphasis how far the pair have come in their respective careers, whilst avoiding the trap of an indulgent and empty wallowing in their reunion. This is mainly due to the strength of the script and the respect Mendes shows to Richard Yates’ much revered 1961 novel of the same name. And it is clear that a decade on, the pair’s chemistry is far from extinct.
Revolutionary Road is faithful to its 1950′s setting without being a nostalgic tribute, and raises questions over the viability of the American dream in post-war and post-depression times; pertinent to many Americans currently suffering the effects of an economic crisis. Mendes demonstrated this expertly and, although the subject matter is not as groundbreaking as it was in 1961 when Yates’ novel was published, Mendes’ articulation of the working limitations of the American dream – packaged in 1950s suburbia – is entirely accurate.
Di Caprio conveys Frank’s frustrations with accuracy and his despair with emotion. Before Martin Scorsese got his hands on Di Caprio for roles in Gangs of New York, The Aviator and The Departed, the role of Frank Wheeler (which he plays in Revolutionary Road), would have been one too far. Scorsese has made Di Caprio not only good but great, and perhaps the role of the luckless Frank will earn him the Oscar he now surely deserves. Winslet too, is excellent. She is assured in her role as the ambitious, yet sometimes deluded April, and portrays her desperation with ease.
With Revolutionary Road, Mendes has created American Beauty’s 9 year cousin. It’s a faithful yet appropriate take on the reality of American life, and the theme of the young couple’s failed move to Paris is a rejection of liberalism, illustrated by the somber downward spiral their welfare follows. But it somehow manages to avoid being a depressing film, more just an honest home truth, which Mendes tells exceeding well.