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Intense turns ahead in ‘Road’

January 14, 2009|By Bob Harris

The feel-bad film of the season is “Revolutionary Road,” which is just fine if you are up for a night of emotional carnage. The film presents an unyielding darkness that might repel most moviegoers in these brutal economic times.

The film is adapted by Justin Haythe from Richard Yates’ novel of the same name and directed by Sam Mendes. This vision of existential dread in America will scare more moviegoers than even the best horror movies.

Set primarily in suburbia of the late 1950s, “Revolutionary Road” is a bitter, intimate drama with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starring as Frank and April Wheeler. They have it all — great looks, marriage, children, a good job in the city and a home in the suburbs. However, as it plays out here, their American dream is a suffocating nightmare.


The film opens with the pair’s first meeting at a party and flash-forwards to find the couple now married with two children, living in the suburbs far from the world’s excitement. Early on Frank and April have a blistering roadside argument that leaves no previous slight forgiven or bad memory unburied. In an attempt to regain a hold on their dreams, the pair decide to move to Paris and really begin living. The complications and compromises that then line up in their way form the basis for the rest of the film.

This film is an actors’ showcase with intense turns by DiCaprio, Winslet and Michael Shannon. Here, DiCaprio, though still the golden boy, is heavier and puffier, with a road-worn face. At times, he looks and sounds like a ’70s-era Jack Nicholson with the acting chops to back up such a comparison.

As good as DiCaprio is, Winslet does him one better, and the film is really about her. April wears a series of masks to try and find some type of happiness or, at least, to mask her immense dissatisfaction with her husband and her life. Like many wives, April knows Frank’s weak spots and probes them with a savage gusto. Like many husbands, Frank is astonished when he realizes all the sweet nothings mouthed in his ear over the years are exactly that — nothing.

Shannon turns in another of his great gonzo performances as John, the damaged son of one of the Wheelers’ neighbors, a man declared clinically insane and the only person who understands what the Wheelers are feeling. If April is the film’s raw, wounded soul, John is its electrified conscience.

Mendes, who previously visited the dark side of suburbia in the Academy Award-winning “American Beauty,” displays a keen sense of cinematic black poetry in “Revolutionary Road.” The film is by no means perfect; in fact, at times it is so artfully airtight that it feels hermetically sealed. However, there are a number of good to great moments where it rises from its artistic tomb to shake us up with its vitriolic domestic disturbance.

?BOB HARRIS has been hooked on movies since he was 13 when his brother got a job in a multi-plex and Bob saw all the movies he wanted for free. ?BOB HARRIS has been hooked on movies since he was 13 when his brother got a job in a multi-plex and Bob saw all the movies he wanted for free.

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