OK, I’ll dare. The leads of Revolutionary Road are miscast. Neither Kate Winslet nor Leonard DiCaprio ever quite masters the material, though there are moments where they are very good. Kate’s accent mars her emotions and, well, I’ve never thought Leo had the chops to be an actor’s actor. He should stick to roles that ask for more charisma than inner life.
I do like the material: a script by Justin Haythe based on the novel by Richard Yates. It’s a lot funnier and more insightful than the trailer ever shows. Do I blame Paramount Vantage marketing for cutting the movie’s trailer more like an Oscar montage than a preview of an actual good story? I don’t know, maybe they were under a mandate not to reveal anything but the fact that Kate and Leo will be yelling at each other a lot and crying.
This leaves out the best part of the film, which is the supporting cast, especially Michael Shannon as a man who is considered certifiably insane because he is willing to talk openly about the emptiness of the 1950’s suburban dream.
And that’s what the movie is about, I guess. The Wheelers (Winslet and DiCaprio) are an intellectual couple who have been living the ‘two kids, suburban house’ lifestyle ironically and then decide they want out. Out means moving to Paris (and presumably living the Bohemian life they dreamed of when they were young). But there are obstacles to this dream, the main one being Frank Wheeler’s own fear of change.
If director Sam Mendes (and d.p. Roger Deakins) had used a more distinct visual style, then perhaps the trailer could’ve been built around imagery. As it is, it relies on the one cinematic sequence of the film, Frank’s commute to work amongst hundreds of similarly-dressed business men. The rest of the movie is more a filmed play: long, well-written dialogue scenes. No repetitive imagery of roses, as with Mendes’ first film, American Beauty (also a paean to suburban ennui); no comic book chiaroscuro, as with Mendes’ second film Road to Perdition.
The costume design was very strong. If this film get nominated for more than that, Michael Shannon’s performance and maybe Adapted Screenplay, that means 2008 was as weak a year for movies as I’m beginning to think it was.