What do you do when you wake up in your perfect suburban home, next to your perfect suburban husband and realise that this perfect suburban life is not what you wanted? That’s the dilemma that faces April Wheeler (Kate Winslett), who we first meet as a wide-eyed idealist who dreams of an adventure that never materialises. She instead wakes up next to Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), her office job husband who is beginning to feel the weight of his own crushing mediocrity and has slipped into an on/off fling with the one of the office secretaries.
Based on the incredible novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road examines a couple that are trapped within their own artifices, their own carefully constructed cages. April yearns for the freedom found in reckless abandon, yet is constrained by an ever-encroaching suburban noose, while Frank is fighting to escape the shadow of his father, a man who failed to set the world on fire. To shake them free from their suburban yoke, April dreams up a plan to relocate the family to Paris and away from the oppressing suburbia of their quaint little existence on Revolutionary Road.
The problem with suburbia is that it is a myth, and one that no matter how much it chokes us, we still try desperately to cling to. Even as April begins to pack their belongings away into boxes, and at the same time slowly begins to unpack herself again, Frank’s initial excitement begins to wane and manifest in reasons to stay.
April’s friendship with the utterly suburban realtor Helen Givings and her institutionalised son John (the amazing Kathy Bates and Oscar nominated Michael Shannon) only fuel the increasing division between Winslett and DiCaprio’s Wheeler- with John’s unique
perspective delivering the films signature line: “Hopeless emptiness. Now you’ve said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”
Revolutionary Road is a cold-blooded film. The cinematography is flawless and the score by Thomas Newman builds upon a signature theme, repeating it endlessly, almost as repetitively as the lives and events it is scoring.
This is however a Sam Mendes film, and the man who directed the masterpiece American Beauty is in top form again. For a Brit, he really understands the American Dream, or more specifically, he can see its flaws and is not afraid to pull at the loose strings and watch as the whole tapestry begins to fray. The fact that this film was largely ignored by the Academy is astounding as DiCaprio and Winslett deliver career best performances in a film whose strength is found in the silence and still moments that may have unfortunately distanced it from some viewers.
The film is ultimately a existential suburban nightmare – with the Wheelers inability to either commit to, or escape from their self-made mess providing a frightening reminder of the dangers and torments individuals must face in order to be free.