Words by Naomi Jeffreys
In 2008 Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio starred in Sam Mendes’ film, Revolutionary Road which was based on the 1961 novel of the same name. This was the first time that Winslet and DiCaprio had been on screen together since their break out film Titanic, a gift for any die-hard fan. The film excels in every area, mise-en-scene, lighting, costume and especially music. As a viewer I was captivated and every scene was a delight to watch.
So what’s the film about? A young couple living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s struggle to come to terms with their personal problems while trying to raise their two children. If you want to see a film with two actors on top form, then Revolutionary Road is your best bet.
Winslet and DiCaprio are able to communicate to an audience – ‘suburbia’ in all its twisted wonders. It is clear from the beginning of the film that the couple aren’t happy but are trying to conform to the society about them. The actors portray the Wheelers, April and Frank – a seemingly beautiful, professional perfect couple with two children. But, when both characters commit adultery, with no thought of how their partner might react, the audience is stunned.
Mendes was able to bring out the best in Winslet and DiCaprio, he was working with two phenomenally successful actors the top of their game and boy does it show. When April and Frank argue, the physical intensity of loathing is evident and the audience feels genuinely captivated. Mendes is able to create an atmosphere, a moment in the film where both characters have reached a point in their marriage where they are stuck in suburbia, and any dreams of moving to Paris are a lost dream. It’s a harsh reality. In Frank’s words, a “Hopeless emptiness”.
Perhaps these atmosphere moments are aided by Thomas Newman, the composer. He is perhaps best known for his melodious, lyrical soundtrack in Finding Nemo and The Green Mile just to name a couple of the films he has composed. The soundtrack is like another character and is faded in and out of scenes of high intensity. The music is calm, melodious which is contrasted to the madness within the Wheeler household.
But Mendes’ film is full of ironies, the couple’s close friend and realtor, Helen Givings (Kathy Bates, who was also in Titanic) suggests her mentally ill son – John Givings Jr around for dinner, so he can meet the perfect Wheeler couple. Ironically, John appears to be the only sane man in the film. He makes observations on April and Frank: “You want to play house you got to have a job. You want to play nice house, very sweet house, you got to have a job you don’t like.” The mutterings of a madman are true when it comes to Frank and April, a ‘perfect’ couple in societies eyes, but behind the curtain, the couple is in turmoil.
Mendes’ film is all about conforming to what society expects of us. Society expects us to marry, have two children, find a nice home in suburbia and have a decent job. Even in modern day society this is true, although, women have a stronger say in their career and aren’t as dependent upon their husbands to provide for them.
April and Frank feel like real characters, in a real situation – something which audiences across the world can relate to. Also, there is a stillness to the film, maybe because the film spans a long summer in the Wheeler household. Dibs should go to the lighting and location department as I could really feel the heat dripping from April and Frank. And, perhaps maybe the hot summer represents the fiery relationship which these characters have, or April’s eagerness to escape the monotony of suburbia.
On the film’s release, it was met with positive reviews from critics. It earned a worldwide total of $74.6 million it also appeared on many critics top ten lists of the best films of 2008, Roger Ebert, a revered American critic amongst them. If I haven’t convinced you yet, then you’re a lost cause. But if you like top quality films, with great acting, wonderful music and stunning cinemaphotography. Then see this.