There's a house on Revolutionary Road. It sits on a hill, a pretty, little house, in a pretty, little neighborhood that's nice, quiet, and perfect in every superficial way. The only problem is that you don't want to ever live in that house. This film follows a young married couple in the summer of 1955 after they move from their lives in the city to the lush surroundings of the Connecticut suburbs inside that house.
Coming out of the Union Square Theater in Lower Manhattan where I first saw this movie during late December, I shared the sentiments of several couples around me. One woman said that she doesn't ever want to move to the suburbs after seeing this film.
It's been over a decade since Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet did Titantic (1997), the biggest and best-selling movie of all time. Some might go into this film with expectations that arise to the standards set by that film. DiCaprio and Winslet, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly magazine a week or so before the film's release, said that they wanted to rebel against those expectations.
For those expecting another love story filled with high adventure, as in that James Cameron blockbuster, they will be sorely mistaken. What viewers will get is the exact opposite in fact. Be prepared to see two people fall out of love. Be prepared to see the lackadaisical nature of contemporary life under whelm the two leads in a very powerful way.
This is a dialogue heavy film that is nonetheless rich with substance and subtext that never just simmers. It always instantly boils. The pot and the kettle are DiCaprio and Winslet who handle it all so brilliantly. If they were going for anti-romantic, they certainly achieved it.
Directed by Sam Mendes, some might make allusions to his previous suburban tragedy American Beauty (1999), which earned him the Oscar. I reject such comparisons because, in that movie, the main character is not satisfied with his Babbitt-lifestyle. Here, Frank Wheeler, played by DiCaprio, for the most part, is.
April Wheeler, played by Winslet, is not. She wants out of what she calls a trap. This notion of the American Dream is a trap to her. The catch comes in a not-so-rave reaction to April's career as an actress. A fierce argument ensues, which ends with April having to get out the car and flee with Frank chasing behind her. This becomes how the rest of their arguments will stage themselves.
April comes up with a plan, a way of escaping this suburban snag. She has an epiphany to break both herself and Frank free of this mindset that settling down is the ultimate goal. It comes as a birthday surprise for Frank, but he decides to go along with her idea. It actually turns out to be a very inspired plan. Sadly, what ends up destroying that plan is ironically the happiest thing that can occur to a nice, suburban couple.
David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn play the Wheeler's next-door neighbors Shep and Milly Campbell. They are quite surprised by April's plan. Some might even say shocked. They don't see the problem within their nice, white picket fence. To them, everything is lovely. At least, that's what they tell themselves.
Mendes captures a brilliant shot, which I feel says it all. Frank is going to catch his train at Grand Central Terminal and he is one in a sea of drones, drones dressed in gray, dull business suits and matching fedoras, all walking together in unison. Frank blends so well with them. It would be so Norman Rockwell, if it didn't feel so much like Rod Serling.
Oscar-winner Kathy Bates, who also had a supporting role in Titantic, plays Mrs. Helen Givings, the real estate agent for the Wheelers. She also doesn't understand the trap that they're all in. The only one who does understand it is Mrs. Givings' son, John, played brilliantly by Michael Shannon. Unfortunately, John Givings was recently released from a mental hospital. This puts in the Wheeler's heads that maybe they're crazy too.
There's a moment at the end where the Wheelers have a Ward and June Cleaver moment, and you realize the absolute emptiness and hopelessness that has consumed them, most especially April. It's eerie and creepy and does what I think this film sets out to do, undermine this bucolic image that many TV shows of that day tried to create in making the 1950s out to be this perfect time.
Based on the novel that Time magazine said was one of the best English-language books of the 20th century, this is now one of the best films of the 21st.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for language and sexual content
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.