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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

Revolutionary Road
(Movie Tie-in Edition)
by Richard Yates
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Revolutionary Road"

The impression that this fifties period character drama might make on film producers is to increase their wariness about what books they should acquire for movie rights. Even with a director like Sam Mendes (a filmmaker who will do justice to the written word or die in the attempt--as he certainly did with "American Beauty")--even with such highly skilled actors as those in this cast--even with a fine script by Justin Haythe working from Richard Yates' novel with all intention to be true to the material, the result is something less than spectacular as a cinematic adaptation.

The moment when Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) first lays his eyes on blond, full bodied April (Kate Winslet) is a study in the power of storytelling economy. He's alone at a bouncy Manhattan party. The camera shoots past a smudge of moving dancers to catch glimpses--no more--of Frank, shifting as needed in order to keep his eyes on someone across the room; then the camera reverses direction and shoots through another set of swaying bodies to catch April first noticing Frank watching her. They come together and dance, and the Winslet potency in silent expression leaves no doubt about what just transpired for both of them. The depth of what's on her face means that two souls have become attached--nothing less.

Flash forward. The Wheelers are in their car, having an argument while driving home. In an effort to defuse the intensity of their disagreement, Frank pulls over. April screams, "What are you doing?!" They get out of the car, and verbally lam into each other with full-frontal acrimony. Missiles of hatred and betrayal are lobbed in both directions. So much for the Wheelers and their magical beginning.

With a splash of icewater on the sentimentalities, Mendes provides an instant glimpse of how differently Frank and April's marriage has evolved since the fairy dust moment. What seemed magical and idyllic has been turned by the muck of reality into something tawdry, with components of rage and hatred. Well, disagreement may be recognized as part of any marriage, right? But Mendes is making it clear that what lies ahead is more toxic than that.

The scene shifts beck to an earlier time, when they are just "The Wheelers," getting along as fine as any typical city couple come to the suburbs to raise the kids. They're being driven by real estate agent Helen Givings (Kathy Bates) to the small house near Revolutionary Road that will become home. And, it isn't too much later when April looks at Frank's deadend job as a product salesman at a manufacturing firm and her own boredom as a housewife and mother, and becomes desperate for an out. Expressing a theme that resonates with the times, she's suddenly feeling restless. In their not-so-happy Connecticut home they have become trapped, blocked from their potentials.

She proposes relocating to France. As in Paris, France. She wants to pack up, sell the house, and go. After some confusion, then adjustment, then acceptance, Frank gets into it and soon they're announcing their plans to baffled friends and her parents with contained enthusiasm.

In a lift for the waning drama meter, the Wheelers agree to a visit by nosy, opinionated real estate lady Helen, her parents and her brother John (Michael Shannon) who has just been discharged from a mental ward. With the social restraint of a hungry lion, his verbal observations about his hosts come with a careless truth that opens wounds like a serrated buck knife. The bald ravings of a talkative sociopath with no talent for polite discourse brings a whiff of humor to the piece.

In any event, Frank writes a letter of resignation with devil-may-care candor including what he thinks of the firm's latest venture and the mistakes it seems to be making. The letter comes to the attention of the CEO who, because of this fresh take on the project, wants to promote Frank to an executive position. But things at home don't make that development such a happy one. The dream of flight to greener pastures is over for April and she's not taking kindly to it.

In fact, by this time her emotional stability comes into question as her moods shift between love and hate, depression and adjustment, involvement and distance. John Givings isn't the only one who could use a few sessions on the couch.

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  • Commentary with director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by director and screenwriter
  • Lives of Quiet Desperation: The Making of Revolutionary Road
    The Blu-ray Edition DVD

    SPECIAL FEATURES (HD where indicated):
  • Commentary with director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by director and screenwriter (HD)
  • Lives of Quiet Desperation: The Making of Revolutionary Road (HD)
  • Richard Yates: The Wages of Truth (HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD)
    The Soundtrack
  • The acting, here, can't be faulted. DiCaprio and Winslet give it hell, showcasing their wondrous talents and elevating the movie into recommendable fare. Shannon is indelible as a demented presence, conveying depths of trouble with just a look, and painfully bare truthtelling when he speaks. The chemistry the leads can generate is explosive. But one can't help walking out of the theatre shaking one's head over why this didn't gel into the masterpiece they all did their utmost to make. It is a December release. We know what's on their mind.

    Onscreen cigarette smoking is as incessant as April's discontent--the period prop of choice that becomes a presumably unintended running gag. A more important choke point, though, is dim audience involvement. Strangely shifting mental imbalances and the ultimate ordinariness of the two figures make concern shaky and elusive--challenging a solid attachment to the issues and outcome. Interest holds at unlit and cerebral levels. Which makes it seems like an exercise in drama that played well as a literary novel. I can't argue, however, that it should have been left on the shelf.

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  

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    Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet
    The revolutionaries on Wheeler Road.

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