Tuesday, 23 February 2010

It Takes Real Guts To See The Hopelessness.

There was an awful lot of hype and expectation in the lead up to the release of Revolutionary Road a couple of years ago. Too much. Enough to kill it. Not only was it the first time Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had starred together since the biggest blockbuster (in unadjusted terms) up until then, but it was also the first time Winslet had worked with her husband, acclaimed director Sam Mendes. It was a period piece, set in the post-WWII American suburbs, it was Jack and Rose all grown up. Jack hadn't died, the Titanic hadn't sunk, and now they had to work out how to live together. The dream was over.

And then the film just... well, it didn't seem to gain the traction it should have. The reviews were luke-warm, the trailer just looked strange, it didn't look like the huge success it should have been. And that's probably because it was never going to be the next Titanic, it was never meant to be that way. It was a little quasi-indie adult drama, not the next fix for lusty teenagers. The expectation felt like Titanic 2 while the reality was something entirely different.

That being said, it's not a bad film. The beginning of the film sees Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) meeting at a party, and in no time they're married and living in a nice little house in the suburbs with a couple of kids. Frank doesn't like his job, April is trying to rediscover some passion in her life with an ill-fated amateur theatre company debut, and the cracks start to show in their marriage. April's feelings are that they have sold out on their ideals and dreams to move to the 'burbs with their kids and fulfill that expected American dream. Frank is working in a job that he hates, working long hours and taking bits on the side from a girl in the typing pool while April is languishing at home wishing she were anywhere but there. They fight and fight, and then they have a realisation - Paris.

Their decision to pack up and move so that April can take a well-paid government secretarial position while Frank stays at home to discover whatever it is he wants to do with his life puts a temporary patch on their marital issues, but quickly cracks start to appear, initially from around the edges where external factors start to niggle, quickly cracking through to the centre, letting it all fall in on itself. What kind of a man in 1950s America moves to Paris to let his wife support him while he sits around and reads? It's an assault to his masculinity coupled with a particularly (un)fortuitous moment at work and a sudden unexpected pregnancy, giving Frank an out he may have wanted all along.

I love the way Mendes directs his film. He was an acclaimed stage director before moving into film with American Beauty back at the turn of the millenium, and you can feel that stage influence, though not in the same way you get it with the likes of Rob Marshal's musicals. It doesn't really feel like the actors are on a stage and being shot flat, but the way Mendes utilises the frame and the space within it, often composing a number of people through distance in much the same way as one might in a theatre. He's not afraid to allow empty space to fill the screen with his actors on either periphery to enhance the feeling of distance emotionally in the scene, creating an aching longing in the viewer to close the gap. He's taken the best part of the stage and transposed it onto the screen, and it allows him so much more room to move.

The screenplay by Justin Haythe is great, the lines spoken (or, more often than not, screamed) are for the most part beautiful, poignant, scathing and real, even as they are many times somewhat verbose. The photography from Roger Deakins is beautiful, marrying in with Mendes aesthetic perfectly and giving that '50s America a slightly distant but wonderfully close-to-home feel. It was, however, the performances that won me over. Both DiCaprio and Winslet... it was amazing to watch them together again, because it was incredible to see how much they have both grown. It really was like watching children all grown-up and suddenly able to do things you'd only ever dreamed about. Watching them separately in other films, I'd always known that they had retained and improved on their talents, but seeing them together again, playing off each other like that, after, what, a decade and a bit was a terrific experience. And they were backed up by terrific supports from Kathy Bates as their estate agent Helen and Michael Shannon as her crazed son John, a role he nabbed an Oscar nomination for.

It's not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but, especially now thinking back to when I saw it a week ago, it is very solid. 4 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment