Revolutionary Road Film Review

BOTTOM LINE: Director Sam Mendes retreads the themes of his earlier masterpiece American Beauty in this film but without the biting satire, razor-sharp commentary or overarching themes that made that film work so well. Leo and Kate deliver some fine performances, but the film is clumsy and uneven in its execution and character motivations, with no defining statement or theme.

THE GOOD: “Revolutionary Road” has much in common with director Sam Mendes’ previous work on suburban life, “American Beauty”, although the tone is much more serious and the setting is now the more patriarchal 1950s where men where the central point of attention within the family. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, re-teaming for the first time since “Titanic”, do a fine job as Frank and April Wheeler who once had hopes and dreams in their youth which have now been crushed by the responsibilities of family life. Several dramatic sequences between the pair are riveting to watch, particularly as they sort through the complications surrounding their desires versus their responsibilities and the way the society around them at the time reacted to their wish to do something outside the box. There is an inherent tragedy at work in the story, and is highlighted by an effective musical score by Thomas Newman and lovely visuals by cinematographer Roger Deakins. The exploration of 1950s social culture, particularly within the context of the married couples of the time is of special interest, particularly looking at it from a 21st century perspective where the inequality between the sexes is not as pronounced in relationships as what it was back then. Another good point is the character of John Givings played by an inspired Michael Shannon, a man undergoing psychiatric assessment but unusually is the only character who speaks the truth to everyone in the film, no matter how much it might hurt.

THE BAD: There are two major problems with this film; the first is that Sam Mendes has already covered this material a hundred times better in “American Beauty” and the second is that the execution of the story is uneven and clumsy, without making any major statements. The heart of the story revolves around the dynamic between Frank and April but the inconsistent and changing motivations of these characters do not generate much empathy. The character of Frank comes off worse in this regard because he acts unwittingly inconsiderate to April who feels she has no choice but to nod her head and accept any criticism coming to her and reminders of her place as a housewife. Frank also has an affair with a girl from the secretarial pool at his office, which makes him look even worse and selfish when April comes up with a plan to give Frank everything he wished for in life. However, although empathy can be felt for April, by the end of the film, her motivations become inconsistent and a little crazy as well, including having sex with her neighbour, and then later dying as a result of her self-abortion of her third child. She wants to live life and in the end society convinces Frank otherwise, leading April to become upset to the point of mental depression, causes that might elicit empathy for April’s character but unfortunately do not thanks to the inconsistent direction by Mendes. You feel for these characters, and then they do or say something that makes them unlikeable. Frank can move from an idealist to a self-absorbed patriarch while April moves from thoughtful and considerate to selfish and unable to change. These inconsistencies ultimately stifle any point the film is trying to make; although you will see smaller points being made, you will not walk out of the cinema feeling as if you went on any kind of satisfying journey with these characters, nor come out with a feeling of what the film was trying to say.

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Todd Murphy is a staff reviewer at the film/DVD review web site, – for all the latest reviews on the newest releases.

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