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Michael Russnow

Michael Russnow

Posted: December 4, 2008 03:12 AM

Revolutionary Road's Not So Revolutionary: But Thanks to Leo and Kate, It's Worth the Watch


Revolutionary Road, which I saw with a couple of hundred people last night at the Directors Guild Theatre, is an intriguing but, at times, slow paced film, which in some other thespians' hands wouldn't be nearly as compelling. As a WGA Member, I'm reluctant to negate any writer, but the script, with the exception of occasional sparkling banter, dragged a lot of the time. In fact, Justin Haythe's screenplay based on Richard Yates' novel seems more a throwback to what life might have been like for George and Martha twenty years before we met them in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

It's not exactly the same, and certainly without the wit, but the story surrounds an enormous and sometimes fiery struggle between a young couple, Frank and April Wheeler, whose life purpose seems at odds from the moment they meet at a party to an almost jump cut -- which I found quite jarring -- several years later well into their marriage, trapped in the suburbs with a pair of young kids.

There's a lot of fighting and yelling and then a bit of settling down until April challenges Frank, whose job appears at a dead end, into a life changing proposal to pick up and suddenly move to Paris, where she'll support him while working at a government job so that he can find himself. No matter that, as Frank points out, it's not as if he has any burning ambition longing to be unleashed -- such as if he'd always yearned to be a writer or an artist. However, the thought is appealing and he decides to go for it.

Suddenly things change with a very attractive job offer, which seems to come out of nowhere as it appeared Frank was sort of a slacker on the verge of being fired from his boring sales job. Had he won some sort of lottery -- if there'd been one at the time -- it all might have made more sense. However, that isn't the main fault of the film, which is directed by Sam Mendes (Winslet's husband) in a stagy manner and is oft overly stated in melodramatic form.

That said there are lots of poignant pieces -- not just itty bits -- where Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet shine. I will confess up front that he is my favorite actor, two generations removed from my favorite actress the late and beloved Deborah Kerr. Like Deborah, Leo moves in and out of his roles in chameleon fashion -- it almost doesn't matter what sort of part he plays. And in this instance, so far removed from what he did two years ago in the varied performances of Blood Diamond and The Departed (I have yet to see Body of Lies), he is simply magnificent.

I'm not as much a fan of Kate Winslet, but I mostly admire her work and she equals him in this endeavor playing a tortured wife not knowing what really to do to save their marriage and to a larger extent their lives. Together they are extremely magnetic and will both no doubt be gifted with Oscar nominations.

There are others in the film, who give excellent performances as well, including Kathy Bates, who rejoins the stars after Titanic as the ever present local real estate agent, and her very insane son played by Michael Shannon. Some of his speeches are a little spot on as to the truth of what's really happening to Frank and April, but his take is nonetheless a joy to watch.

Most of the actors are quite watchable. Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour as Frank and April's next door neighbors portray their envy in an understated but effective manner. In particular, Harbour's lust for Kate Winslet, even as he attempts to put Frank down for agreeing to let April support him once they settle down in Paris.

All good things must come to an end, of course, and without spoiling the denouement life is not always so generous in the dispensation of its happy endings. Until come what may arrives, Revolutionary Road plods ever forward to the final fade out, but it still encompasses some wonderful moments and makes us look forward to the next pairing of Leo and Kate.