February 10, 2009 -- All authors want to write the Great American Novel. For most, that goal eludes them, but it didn't elude Richard Yates. He hit the jackpot on his first try with the 1961 novel “Revolutionary Road,” which, like “The Great Gatsby” did in its time, influenced generations of writers to come. After nearly 50 years wandering in the wilderness of Hollywood, a film finally emerged from this book, and it was worth the wait. Of all the directors who could have made this film, Sam Mendes is the perfect choice, having already made the similarly themed “American Beauty,” Mendes returns to his roots in American Suburbia. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, who rose to stardom as the star-crossed lovers of “Titanic” are star-crossed lovers of a different sort in this film about life in 1950s suburbia. The result of all this talent is a masterpiece of a film that reveals the hidden disease at the heart of American life in the 1950s.
While many who lived through those years thought them idyllic, it was anything but for many, with its set-in-stone racism, sexism, discrimination, bigotry and soul-strangling conformity. The 1950s marked the end of the American Revolution the beginning of a period in which Americans would willingly give up their hard-won freedoms in the name of security. For minorities, especially blacks in the south, they continued to live as second class citizens. Lynchings and the reign of terror by the KKK continued unabated.
April Wheeler (Winslet) feels that she and her husband, Frank (DiCaprio) are special people, a notion reinforced by their friends and neighbors, who see them as the perfect couple. They live in a very nice house in a very nice neighborhood and have two very nice children. They are in trouble, though. Frank hates his job and April feels trapped. Their anger and frustration is turned against each other, creating an untenable situation.
April comes up with an interesting solution to the problem: Pull up stakes and move to Paris, France and start over. She'll work and Frank can finally figure out what he wants to do with his life. For a time, it looks like April's desperate plan might work, but then everything falls apart. It is inspired to have the only truth in the film come from the mouth of a crazy man, John Givings (Michael Shannon of “Before the Devil Knows You're Dead”). Winslet and DiCaprio are magnificent. Their emotional pyrotechnics in private provide the perfect counterpoint to the perfect family image they project to the public. The lives of April and Frank are shared, reflected and judged by their troubled neighbors, Shep and Milly Campbell (David Harbour of “Quantum of Solace” and Kathryn Hahn of “Step Brothers”). Master cinematographer Roger Deakins (“No Country for Old Men”) performs magic with images, the costume design by Albert Wolsky is fabulous and the other production values are also top notch. This film rates an A.
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