Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Review: Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008)

There is a moment in the new Sam Mendes picture where it turns into a horror film.  It's a moment that you'll miss if your ears are not completely tuned in.  April (Kate Winslet) senses her husband Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), coming down for breakfast.  They have had countless verbally violent altercations throughout the film and their previous one was the most heated. April faces the counter and Frank waits, knowing that she will turn and face him eventually.  

She turns, and its one of those situations where if this were a horror film, April's eyes would be poked out.  Instead, she turns and glows more than she has in the film.  She says, "Good morning."

It's uncomfortable for the audience.  Winslet noticeably deepens her voice for this line.  Not out of character, just an attempt at gross sincerity.  It's the eeriest, hardest-hitting, and best line in the film.  This moment is actually a microcosm of the film.  April and Frank are coming out of a fight and reconcile for who knows how long - a week, two days, five minutes.

To say this is my kind of movie is an understatement.  I loved this film - a dialogue and character-driven picture featuring subtle cinematography and the simple yet completely absorbing score from Thomas Newman (a Sam Mendes regular).  Those in the know, are already aware that Mendes and Winslet are married with children.  Yes, this is Mendes' picture to own but for the viewer, Winslet absolutely carries the film.  She is becoming an actor you can't help but watch.  Remember how Ian McKellen lifted the material in "Gods and Monsters" (Bill Condon, 1998)?  That film, on a good day, probably scores no better than an average grade, but McKellen makes people care.  To be sure, "Revolutionary Road" is a far better film, but Winslet carries this picture in a similar way.  DiCaprio's work, while very good, can only come off slighted when directly compared to Winslet.  It's her film through and through.

There are many reasons the public will spend their money to see this film.  It has Oscar buzz in all the major categories.  Winslet and DiCaprio give great performances.  Auteur fanatics will flock to see Sam Mendes.  There may not be many Thomas Newman fans, but perhaps he could garner a few box office tickets.  However, being a child in the late 90s makes this perhaps the can't miss film of the last decade.

"Titanic" (James Cameron, 1997) majestically sailed into cinematic immortality with relatively two new and young actors: the same Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.  Winslet seems hardly unchanged, but DiCaprio has filled out - in a good way.  His face is fuller, leaving the boyish porcelain looks of E Deck behind.  He has grown into one of the most bankable stars in the business and pairing him with longtime friend Winslet cements the overwhelming appeal of "Revolutionary Road."  The setting of this film is interesting - the 50s.  It's almost as if Jack and Rose survived the Titanic, and carved out a charming life for themselves, almost.  Close enough, that it works.  Their love thrives on the doomed ocean liner.  Their love is nothing short of destructive when on solid and comfortable dry land.

The film's structure does raise an interesting question.  I must credit my viewing partner LP for recognizing this.  "Revolutionary Road" feels like many scenes strewn together artfully and with great impact.  There is flow and the audience is always left wanting more.  However, the characters come off as if they only exist in these scenes.  "I cannot imagine what these characters do when they are not onscreen."  On the surface, this seems like a detriment.  In general, audiences want characters that stick with them.  While I think I agree with LP, my love for this film is not diminished.

So, it here that I ask you fellow JOUSTERS to chime in.  First, do you agree with this assessment of "Revolutionary Road?"  Do you think a film NEEDS to create characters that can exist beyond the screen itself?  Does an audience need to imagine these people at the soda fountain? At the library?  Trimming the hedges?