Revolutionary Road, Mendes' latest take on how rough it can be when carpet swatches and cul-de-sacs run your life, stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple living in a nondescript suburb outside of New York City in the mid 1950s. The film opens with a high-angle night shot and a '40s-era ballad cutting through the soundtrack. I only remember this mundane detail because that also describes the opening scene in The Shawshank Redemption. Point being, both are essentially prison movies.
For Kate and Leo, the prison is self-made: an unexpected pregnancy pushed them both out of the glamour of the city and into the humdrum of family life and 4-door sedans. Along with dirty diapers and dashed dreams, naturally, comes loud arguing and dramatic gesticulating. It's basically, I imagine, what Ozzie and Harriet did during the commercial breaks.
The plot is extremely thin, leaving room for plenty of seize-the-day platitudes that get a heavy drumbeat in almost every scene. In a flashback, a younger Frank describes to a younger April his wartime experience in Paris: "People are really alive there," he says (presumably the Germans weren't around at that moment). Seven years and a set of baggy eyelids later, Frank and April begin to think leaving the country for Paris is the silver bullet for their problems. She'll work to support the family and Frank can finally find his purpose in life. The fact that Frank seems to have no hobbies or skills outside of writing marketing one-liners and drowning himself in martinis gives us little hope that a purpose is out there. Soon, the Wheeler family's escape from Shawshank is in danger, and the fallout is severe.
Winslet and DiCaprio are both gifted actors, with several Oscar nominations between the two of them (Winslet already won a Golden Globe for her role in this film). Just the same, Revolutionary borders on hypnosis right up until Michael Shannon (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, 8 Mile) barges onto the screen, playing the institutionalized son of the neighbor lady (Kathy Bates) who sold the Wheelers their house.
There is no real purpose for his character's presence in the film, other than to deliver blunt and often hilarious wallops of wisdom onto the unsuspecting heads of Kate and Leo: "You want to play house, you got to have a job," he says to Frank. "You want to play nice house, you got to have a job you don't like."
Shannon, already nominated for an Academy Award, has a bug-eyed, perennially sneering mouth that probably gives him an unfair advantage when it comes to creepy-villain roles. His parting shots to the Wheelers in the final act are especially cathartic for the audience who has grown weary of this insufferable couple.
Revolutionary Road will please you if you have the patience to stick with it, and the therapist to help you forget it.
Revolutionary Road ★★✩✩
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon and Kathy Bates. Directed by Sam Mendes.