Revolutionary Road (US - BD)
Gabe kind of wishes that this particular revolution hadn't been televised...
Disaffected upper middle class couple Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) move to a road named Revolutionary in one of New York City's wealthy Connecticut suburbs, and have a couple of kids. After April’s dreams of acting fame fizzle and Frank’s job proves limited, April drops a bomb – she wants to move to France, where she’ll work and Frank will ‘find himself’. Unfortunately things are never that easy.
The Revolutionary Road trailers didn’t lie to me, it’s not full of subtlety or a lack of Oscar bait. It’s also a lot like Mad Men, minus any sense of faith in its audience. I know that Richard Yates’ novel predates the AMC series by decades, so the source story cannot be accused of mimicking any of the show’s plot elements, or even its dissection of white American culture during the early 1960s, but there are still plenty of unattractive comparisons to be made. The comparisons start with big elements like characters, and dribble down to minor elements and subtext.
The film’s themes are common and the momentum is predictable. The angst is also occasionally obnoxious, especially after one considers director Sam Mendes’ back catalogue, which includes uber-angst-fests like American Beauty and Jarhead (even Road to Perdition is kind of angst ridden). Revolutionary Road is overflowing with frustrated people that just don’t know what to do with themselves or the people around them, and the time period isn’t enforced enough for me to not be frustrated by their emotional impotence.
The Oscar bait-tastic cast is on top game, assuming they were projecting to a theatre audience, and there just happened to be a camera crew there to pick it up. The timing of the dialogue, and the lack of subtly reminded me of stage acting, like the kind seen and award nominated recently in Doubt, and I don’t think it quite fits the material. The show stopper, almost literally, is Michael Shannon as mental patient John Givings, who pushes things to near histrionic levels, but somehow also manages to also be the best thing about the entire picture—by a long shot. Shannon instigates the best scenes between the leads, and electrifies the otherwise monotonous and repetitive narrative.
The one thing Mendes can match the Mad Men directors for time after time is visuals that speak poetic volumes beyond the obvious. I don’t think that Mendes is capable of making an ugly film (which is why I think he’s a bad choice for an adaptation of Garth Ennis’ ‘Preacher’). Sometimes the tone poem is a little too obvious, like when Frank has half his face deeply shadowed while being ‘two-faced’ with his wife, but it is rather regularly beautiful to look at.
Revolutionary Road, as stated, is a good looking film, and it looks slightly above average in 1080p, and 2.35:1 widescreen. The transfer is not without its grain, but it’s not swimming in it either. The edges aren’t the sharpest either, and there is some compression and sharpness enhancement, though nothing beyond the acceptability of a studio hi-def transfer. The sharpness is a minor issue, specifically during darker shots. When in high and even lighting the transfer looks pretty fantastic, but when filmed under more naturalistically means (look to the scene where DiCaprio and Winslet walk Shannon through the woods) there’s some softness, and some minor bleeding. The more stylized indoor sequences are often warmly tinted with auburns, which likely leads to some compression noise in standard definition, but excepting the grain these scenes are pretty clean, and the colours remarkably solid. These scenes also feature pretty severe contrast, which leads to some effectively deep blacks, even if they aren’t always entirely without a little colour perversion.
Revolutionary Road is a remarkably well centred film aurally. The soundtrack starts in the middle, and for the most part it stays right there for two hours. The film is largely dependent on dialogue, but it also features its fair share of dialogue, and if you like dialogue, well then just wait until you hear the dialogue. There are a few minor blips of surround involvement like passing cars, rain, or chirping birds, but otherwise the sound effects are either absent or recorded on set. Sometimes the dialogue, which is always clear and clean, is inconsistent in warmth, and naturalism (it doesn’t look like ADR, but it certainly sounds like it). Thomas Newman’s minimalist score is deceptively traditional in many respects, but he develops some impressive motifs out of utter simplicity. The score is well represented in the front three channels, and is often the loudest element of the entire Dolby TrueHD track.
Despite his inarguably pretentious film catalogue ( inarguable I say!), Sam Mendes seems to be a pretty down to earth guy on this commentary track, approaching the filming like a technical exercise, and the plotting like a puzzle. He’s joined on this track with screenwriter Justin Haythe, who’s not much of a talker. The track is surprisingly welcoming and more entertaining than the film itself, at least for a while. There’s no mention of Mad Men, and unfortunately a lack of specifics on adaptation.
‘Lives of Quiet Desperation’ (29:00 HD) is a goofily self-important little making-of featurette that sort of skirts that line between informative and advertising. When focusing on the actual filming process the participants are pretty with-it and engaging, but when they delve into the subtext things get a little cloudy. ‘Richard Yates: The Wages of Truth’ (26:00 HD) is much more interesting to me, as an idiotically un-read moron who’s never actually heard of Yates. The author’s life and career is covered in a rather exacting fashion by friends, family, and critics. Like most talented authors the guy had his share of personal problems, and his story is a bit of a downer.
The disc is finished off with fourteen deleted scenes, all featuring optional commentary with Mendes and Haythe. I thank God for the cutting, as the scenes would’ve made an overlong movie too brutal to watch, but I am surprised at the general quality of the scenes on the whole, and wonder about some of Mendes’ editing choices (as he does here as well).
I’m firmly not fond of Revolutionary Road, and I think it represents a continued downward slope in director Sam Mendes’ career. The once promising first time director of American Beauty is slowing becoming a practitioner of only Stanley Kubrick’s worst elements. He seems to have forgotten any balancing lessons from one time teacher Steven Spielberg, and Revolutionary Road is the perfect representation of a cold and calculated look at an otherwise compelling subject. The parallels to AMC’s Mad Men only add to the heart ache. It’s a massive disappointment for me, though a satisfying disc in terms of audio and visual content. The extras aren’t bad either.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 2nd June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Extras: Director/Writer Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Lives of Quiet Desperation, Richard Yates: The Wages of Truth, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Micheal Shannon, Kathy Bates
Length: 118 minutes
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