Richard Yates’ Eleven Kinds of Loneliness is one of my favourite books. A collection of short stories that depict eleven different isolated individuals, the book captures the alienation of the late forties and fifties. From housewives trapped in their suburban prisons, to children separated in the playground by their differences, it deals with poisonous atmospheres and psychological imprisonment. Everything that I love about Yates’ alienated world is present in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road. The film, based on the novel by Yates, depicts Frank and April, a married couple who are realising, two minutes too late, that they have settled in, or perhaps for, suburbia. April wanted to me more than just a mother – she wanted to be an actress. Early in the film we see her coming to terms with her limited talents. Frank works ten hours a day to provide a comfortable life for his wife and two children. Frank, along with his wife, had dreams once too. The difference? Frank is content with their marriage and slightly false ‘happy family’ image. Both are trapped, by themselves, each other, their responsibilities and their surroundings. The film is delivered with grace and elegance. Performance, direction and story combine to make Revolutionary Road an altogether exquisite piece of work.
Here, I want to echo the words of the irreplaceable and sorely missed Roger Ebert. On the subject of the film Ebert stated that “they are so good, they stop being actors and become the people I grew up around.” He was referring, of course, to Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Despite 90% of Titanic being a complete abomination, it did reveal the cinematic chemistry that flies back and forth between Winslet and DiCaprio. Individually they are marvellous; together they are flawless. Contemporary cinema acting doesn’t get better than this. I don’t think I’ve seen an on-screen couple fight (and love) so passionately and ruthlessly since De Niro and Stone in Scorsese’s Casino. (Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling came close in Blue Valentine in 2010). As remarkable as both leads are, I am shocked that I have read hardly anything about Michael Shannon’s performance in the film. His character is on the screen briefly but is responsible for a lot of the destruction in Frank and April’s home and marriage. Shannon always impresses me but here he gives a particularly exciting and unpredictable performance. Kathy Bates also gives a very moving performance in a supporting but crucial role.
Revolutionary Road is a combination of lost chances, repressed desire, self loathing and relationship resentment. Polluted love and lost hope drive the dialogue, creating a dark mood that descends as the film progresses. The characters are suffocating. Frank and April, despite their mutual efforts to swim, continue to drown one another. Revolutionary Road is both charming and cold. There is a relentless bleakness that begins on the white picket fencing and gradually oozes into the very story. It wouldn’t be half as admirable a film if it was not for Winslet and DiCaprio, but the bold direction and storytelling should not be over-looked when they emphasise, so powerfully, the portrayals of two characters – so helpless; so broken.
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