Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: Revolutionary Road - Kate and Leo Don't Find Things Much Better in Suburbia

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Movie Review: Revolutionary Road - Kate and Leo Don't Find Things Much Better in Suburbia

I guess because of the fact that I found myself uninvolved in the viewing of Revolutionary Road, my thoughts instead were focused on inferences I was making outside the margins of the film, so I thought I'd share. The film is a return to suburbia by Sam Mendes who directed the once overrated, and now underrated American Beauty (1999). Like that movie, Road examines the inner workings of a marriage and the effects of conformity on the couple, here played by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio - forever associated with their previous coupling in Titanic (1997). I'm not sure it exposes any kind of revelations on the complex relationship that forms a marriage. Now I've never read the Yates novel on which it is based, so forgive me if I read into it from the cinematic side more so than the literary. Road seems a little derivative, the obvious comparison being TV's Mad Men which I've heard bandied about elsewhere. But not having seen Mad Men, it actually reminds me of a much older cult classic I've been viewing for another project, Michael Mann's Crime Story (1986-88). That show was set in the early sixties, and like its descendant, Heat (1995), looked not only at the cops and robbers, but their relationships with their wives and families against the nascent idea of women's liberation. And there's the rub, because the luxury of time afforded even a TV series with a brief run allows one to pick apart both the good things and the bad about a marriage slowly. Even Heat did not have the time nor inclination to successfully flesh out the workings of a marriage in relationship to its principal story like Crime Story did. But this film takes so much time to cover the downside of the Wheelers' crumbling relationship that one wonders what Frank and April ever saw in each other. And brief flashbacks to their first dates are not convincing enough to lay the foundation. So could Mendes have been depending on moviewatchers' own history with these two actors to fill in the blanks? Does anybody else out there find it kind of funny that from a meta-perspective, this movie's Frank and April Wheeler are the hardened, grown-up, cynical versions of Winslet's social misfit Rose, and DiCaprio's freespirited Jack from their previous onscreen match-up?


Dean Treadway said...

It's interesting that you mention TV's luxury of time. I posit that, in the post-TWIN PEAKS/SOPRANOS/BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER mediascape, movies now seem an awful chintzy way to tell a large story. It feels like movies rush us through their machinations too quickly, rarely giving their characters time to live and breathe. For instance, how many bio-pics have you seen where the films seems to be carting us through a "greatest hits" collection of a person's life? Birth-to-death bios like RAY and that sort of movie tend to say "They started doing this, and then they did this, and surely you remember this, and this, too, and then they died." Imagine, though, a 13 episode TV series based on a persons life. Not a miniseries--four hours or so--but a 13-hour series...or even more. How about a 13 or 24 episode adaptation of a book like REVOLUTIONARY ROAD? Then we could really see in detail how things happen in these people's lives, and you wouldn't get a movie that crams in all the dramatics without explaining how the characters got to this point in the first place.

This is why movies are so hard to make; they are machines that need to run with the utmost in efficiancy and gas milage. If one piston isn't firing right, the whole thing just won't go.

I really feel now that long-form TV is the way to tell the most detailed of stories now. Movies now seem best suited to tell small, simple tales. Or, conversely, tales so big that effects-laden sturm und drang is all they're offering.

Anonymous said...

Interesting review I felt like watching movie, Its great to see the titanic fame combination, Leonard and Kate winslet.

Thanks for posting.

Tony Dayoub said...

Thanks for posting, Dean and Kelly.


I think TV does have that potential to explore a subject in closer detail and with the luxury of time that closer approaches reality. Oh, but all the quality shows are starting to end their run; Battlestar Galactica, The Shield, The Wire, with Lost soon to follow. And shows that used to be provocative are now mere parodies of themselves, i.e. 24 and Nip/Tuck.

The only promising dramatic shows currently renewed for next season are Breaking Bad, In Treatment, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, and arguably, Damages.

I think the pendulum is due to swing back in cinema's favor soon.

Joel Bocko said...

I enjoyed this brief review, even though you say it came out of an apathetic viewing experience (glad you could be honest about it, and surprisingly I find these type of viewings often lead to more stringent, sharper reviews, for whatever reason).

This is one of the new releases I'm most interested in seeing even though I'm skeptical (as I am of most movies out now, apparently). Interesting your observation on American Beauty - I don't know if I'd call it underrated now, though I see what you're getting at, but it was somewhat overrated. Most of all, to me it felt cold and - clinical isn't the right word, not for a movie that Conrad Hall shot - but somehow as if it was relating metaphysics and mysticism from behind a curtain. Also, its social criticism seemed confused, as at times it seemed to be transposing a 50s pastiche of suburbia while at others, it attempted to be very au courant. It's definitely worthy of a full-length review/analysis, which will be forthcoming one of these far-distant days.

I try to avoid getting sucked into TV shows though the one about the shrink is certainly compelling.