Sam Mendes, who gave us an impeccable comedy depicting American family life in “American beauty” and brought together Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Daniel Craig in “The Road to Perdition” a classical drama about Irish American organized crime, comes up with yet another period film, “Revolutionary Road”, about American middle class life in the 1950s based on a novel of the same name by Richard Yates. This film brings together Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di-Caprio for the first time after they starred in the romantic saga ‘Titanic’ a decade ago. And they have come together for the right film.
The plot revolves around Frank and April Wheeler who are like any other America middle class couple of the 1950s, yet feel they are different and special. They want to break away from the “hopeless emptiness” that characterizes American Urban life of those days. They are tired of a monotonous life which forces them to fight for their survival all the time without enjoying a moment of it. When the weight of such humdrum takes a toll and threatens their marriage, April and Frank come up with audacious plans to revive their lives. Will their plans work? Do they have the courage to break free of the societal fetters? These questions form the main plot.
The strength of the film is the brilliant portrayal of the roles by its lead actors and the central characters themselves. April, played by Kate Winslet is a bold and ambitious woman. Frank played by Di-Caprio is a normal young man who just likes to think he is different from other men; epitomised by Frank’s words, “I was just a little wise guy with a big mouth”. April, nevertheless believes that Frank is a special guy who is not just another salesman in a business machines company (which he really is). Even when their marriage is collapsing and her stint in theatre acting gets bad criticism, she doesn’t give up on life. Frank on the other hand is a little tired of his wife’s ambitions and tries to bring her back to reality. His only idea of adventure seems to be an amorous flirt or a casual adultery with his colleague. On Frank’s thirtieth birthday (a day after a messy scuffle between the couple), she throws a surprise party for Frank and comes up with the idea of moving to Paris. She justifies her idea by saying that women in clerical post get paid handsomely in Europe and Frank will be free to pursue whatever he feels like doing. Frank, reluctant for such a dramatic change, hints that he will not be any better even if he is free from responsibilities. But an excited April doesn’t take the cue and finally convinces Frank. What follows is a compelling and powerful emotional drama which will reveal whether Paris promises to fulfil the Wheelers‘ dreams or not.
The film delves into the serious questions haunting people living in the concrete jungle. If development is seen as freedom to pursue our interests without any restraints and if we disregard material proofs of human development, can we really say that we have developed as a society? If social compulsions come in the way of one’s pursuit, can our society be termed as tolerant and mature? And Frank’s character points out the failure of an individual who shows courage to change the prejudices. It is ultimately a lack of this attitude prevalent among most of us that accumulates into collective failure and hindering the society from unfettering itself from the absurd dictatorial institution that it has become.
The movie is helped by a host of talented supporting cast. Michael Shannon who plays the role of John Givings (son of a family friend of the Wheelers), was nominated for Best Supporting actor in the Academy Awards 2009. John, a mathematician diagnosed with severe psychosis, is the only one who appreciates the couple for taking bold decisions. While April is the heart of this movie, John is its conscience. He speaks with candour and prescient wisdom (ironically, he is confined to an asylum). When he finds out that Frank wants to hold his job rather than go to Paris, he reprimands him brutally for his cowardice. In what turns out to be one of the most compelling scenes of the movie, John rips off Frank’s ego and questions the petty life he wants to pursue. The other supporting cast includes veteran Kathy Bates who plays the selfish and illiberal mother of John Givings; David Harbour in the role of Shep Campbell, a family friend who is emotionally attached to April, though married to another woman.
Sam Mendes revels in a period film. His attention to detail is evident throughout the film. The 1950s New York is created with intricacy. The shot when Frank walks out of the train along with numerous other similar looking, similar dressed men in their suits and fedoras is symbolic of the mundaneness and monotony that characterizes urban life of the salaried middle class. Sam does a commendable job of bringing out the soul of the novel beautifully into the film. The screenplay (by Justin Haythe) is evenly paced out with little twists in right intervals just enough to engage the viewer. Sam is supported tremendously by the technical department. Roger Deakins’s cinematography with a nostalgic stark sepia tint captures the landscapes of the Connecticut neighbourhood with elaborate detail. The vastly under-rated Thomas Newman’s Background music adds value to the compelling scenes by simply remaining silent and allowing the dialogues to take fore. In other scenes it creates the right sensation of an emotional drama. Art Direction with its elaborate detail deserves the Academy Award nomination. The film was also nominated for Best Costume category in Academy Awards. Two time Academy award winner Albert Wolsky does a laudable job in creating costumes that transforms characters effortlessly into the 1950s.
Revolutionary Road in the end is a compelling period drama, with a brilliant cast and a masterful technical crew. It is a wholesome movie experience and a don’t-miss-it film for movie buffs
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