Sunday, January 11, 2009

Revolutionary Road: Buckle Up it's gonna be a Bumpy Ride


By now, you've all seen, or should have seen, Kate Winslet dominate the Golden Globes with wins for both of her performances this year (Best Supporting actress for The Reader, and Best Actress in a Drama for Revolutionary Road) and they are both well deserved.  She's clearly one of the greatest actresses of our generation (for more evidence see Sense and Sensibility, Quills, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Beautiful Creatures, well really anything) and her turn in this film is nothing short of haunting.

Revolutionary Road looks like it should be one of those movies that creeps up on you.  It doesn't.  It hits you straight in the face with everything it's got, and then some.  At the outset, we're introduced to Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), a typical 50s couple, although that's never what they intended to set out as.

April and Frank are interesting and unique, at least that's what they're told and that's what they believe.  It's what you want to believe too.  There are flashbacks to the promises of a younger life, but most of the film is dedicated to the present April and Frank, who have meandered away from the happiness they once felt was assured.  The modern April and Frank are frustrated, angry, stuck.  It's that perfect suburban existence filled with 2 kids and a car, the only things missing are a white picket fence, a dog, and the hope that comes with not knowing what's coming next.  

This predictability has different effects on different people, and it's those reactions that are explored throughout the movie.  What we experience is a couple that continues to drift, farther and farther apart, until when they look back at each other, neither of them are recognizable.  It's a frighteningly real problem that has seen its consequences resulting in a divorce rate that is now over 50 % of the American population.  While we've all heard stories of the dissolution of a marriage, i guarantee you, you've never seen it put on film like this.

Sam Mendes, who directed that little movie that could (also about suburban life) a few years ago that you may remember, American Beauty, is triumphant once again at combining his images and his actors in perfect harmony.  What he creates is a film that takes you on more of a journey than anything I've seen in a while.  It becomes more than a movie, it becomes a lesson and an experience.  Mendes paces the movie slowly, lulling the audience into almost feeling the numbness of our main characters, which results in us feeling the explosions are the more, painfully for knocking us off course.  The same way the characters move from emotional to physical reactions, so does the audience, and ultimately, I left feeling completelly drained.

This is not a movie to be taken lightly.  Do NOT think that this is a re-pairing of Jack and Rose.  While that nostalgia might be a drawing factor for some people, I can almost guarantee you that this is an even more emotional movie than Titanic (for those of you who cried, of which I was certainly one) and almost leaves you hoping for that sappy Celine Dion song to make everything ok. 

Winslet and DiCaprio are at the top of their games here.  While they were both beginning to hit their stride in 1997, they've both matured and their chemistry is undeniable.  While it seems odd to say, it really shows in the fight scenes, revealing themselves so completely to each other that it takes it to a level that I think can only be reached between actors comfortable not only in their own skins, but with each other. 

Mendes, Winslet, and DiCario, or the Trifecta, as they should be called, reveal the ugly truth in all of us in this movie.  They discuss what happens when our old dreams die and our new dreams are no longer shared by those we love the most.  They speak of selfishness and anger, love and hate, reality and truth, and they all do it, almost effortlessly.  Michael Shannon is a great addition to the cast, lifting the veil on suburban happiness and leaving destruction in his path.  There are so many great things about this movie, and it's one of those that will be studied in the years to come, I think.  For me, although I loved it, it's a movie that's hard to like.  It's too much and too truthful, and that's what's amazing about it.  It made me want to escape the theater and figure out what to do with my life so that I don't end up like the characters I'd just seen.  But maybe that's the other point of the movie, maybe we all become what we fear the most.  Thanks Sam for that uplifting thought!

Overall 5 out of 5 Gin & Tonics.

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