On 'Revolutionary Road,' A Dream Gone Off Course

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Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio i

Happier Times: April (Kate Winslet) and Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) start strong but go wrong in Revolutionary Road. Francois Duhamel/DreamWorks hide caption

itoggle caption Francois Duhamel/DreamWorks
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio

Happier Times: April (Kate Winslet) and Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) start strong but go wrong in Revolutionary Road.

Francois Duhamel/DreamWorks

Revolutionary Road

  • Director: Sam Mendes
  • Genre: Drama, Romance
  • Running Time: 119 minutes

Rated R: Nudity, sexual situations

Michael Shannon i

The Nonconformist Next Door: Michael Shannon plays the straight-talking, recently straitjacketed son of real estate agent Helen Givings (Kathy Bates, below). Francois Duhamel/DreamWorks hide caption

itoggle caption Francois Duhamel/DreamWorks
Michael Shannon

The Nonconformist Next Door: Michael Shannon plays the straight-talking, recently straitjacketed son of real estate agent Helen Givings (Kathy Bates, below).

Francois Duhamel/DreamWorks
Kathy Bates in 'Revolutionary Road' i
Kathy Bates in 'Revolutionary Road'

Just over a decade ago, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio played a couple who fell in love in the movie Titanic. Now, they're reunited in a film called Revolutionary Road, and this time they're playing two people who are just titanically unhappy.

Not when they meet, of course. In their early days together, April and Frank wanted it all. It was the 1950s, and Frank had dreams but no job; April pictured a life as an actress. The future was theirs.

Then Frank got a job, April got pregnant, and high-minded talk of Paris and of "feeling things" faded into the background. Dreams deferred, they started talking to realtors.

Buy the house in the suburbs, go to work, take out the garbage, have an affair — slowly these two mortgage their dreams. Their marriage turns sour, they end up at each other's throats, and then things really go wrong.

Now, I've been telling the story chronologically, but the movie, and the novel it's based on, don't. Revolutionary Road jumps around in time, with the result that you don't get to know April and Frank before you see them at each other's throats.

Director Sam Mendes makes '50s suburbia a persuasively suffocating place — he did the same for '90s suburbia in American Beauty, remember.

But these characters are so selfish and self-centered, and the screenplay is so calculated about bringing them to their knees, that the movie feels sort of hermetically sealed. Was conformity in the 1950s really that straitjacketing, you wonder?

Just as you're wondering, happily, an expert in straitjackets shows up — the real-estate agent's son, fresh from the mental hospital, which makes him the ultimate '50s nonconformist: someone who says what he means.

"You want to play house, you've got to have a job; you want to play very nice house, very sweet house, then you've got to have a job you don't like," he all-too-accurately tells Frank. "Anyone comes along and says 'What do you do it for?' — he's probably on a four-hour pass from the state funny farm. Agreed?"

Michael Shannon plays this guy, and pretty effectively steals the scenes he's in from Winslet and DiCaprio. But they don't have any trouble reclaiming the story as it turns darker.

And it gets very, very dark by the final fade. The Richard Yates novel, written back in 1961 when critiques of the suburbs were themselves revolutionary, is by all accounts devastating.

But the characters' problems seem a bit of-their-own-making in the movie. Are Frank and April really as special as they think they are? Were they ever likely to set out on a road that could be called "revolutionary"?

If not — and if they're not, say, Willy Loman — why is their misery, however expertly brought to cinematic life, worth two hours of our time?

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