What does a cult 1961 Richard Yates novel about a 1950s marriage rotting in the burbs have to say to a new century? Plenty, and hold on, because the raw and riveting Revolutionary Road hits you where it hurts. To hear Kate Winslet, as April Wheeler, express her desire “to be wonderful in the world” is to be reminded of stifled urges with no expiration date.
Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, as her husband, Frank, could not be better in the roles of young marrieds who (shades of Mad Men) move from Manhattan to the suburbs, promising themselves it’s all just temporary. April dreams of taking off for Paris, where she’ll work while Frank pursues his artistic impulses. Add two kids, thwarted ambitions, adultery — Frank with a secretary (a vivid Zoe Kazan) and April with a married neighbor (the excellent David Harbour) — plus April’s unwanted third pregnancy, and the whooshing sound you hear is a dream in free-fall.
Directed with extraordinary skill by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), who warms the chill in the Yates-faithful script by Justin Haythe, the film is a tough road well worth traveling. Camera genius Roger Deakins lights the “hopeless emptiness” on view with a terrible beauty. All the actors amaze. Start the award buzz for Michael Shannon as John Givings, the institutionalized son of a gossipy realtor (the ever-superb Kathy Bates). Home on a visit, John spits the truth at Frank and April. Playing the role like a heat-seeking missile that targets hypocrisy, the volcanic Shannon scores a knockout. DiCaprio is in peak form, bringing layers of buried emotion to a defeated man. And the glorious Winslet defines what makes an actress great, blazing commitment to a character and the range to make every nuance felt. Winslet’s last scene, as April prepares breakfast for a husband who can’t see the torment behind her smile, is emotionally devastating. This movie takes a piece out of you.