Every year, everyone has issues with the Academy’s nominees. It’s no secret that Oscar doesn’t usually recognize the best pictures of the year, and everyone likes to point that out. Myself included. It seems that this year, his biggest misstep is ignoring Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road. I mean, what the hell? The mess of a movie The Reader gets a best picture nod, and the only bone that gets thrown to Road is a best supporting actor nomination for Michael Shannon (which was definitely well deserved) and some art direction stuff?
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet play the leads, Frank and April Wheeler. The Wheelers live in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s, when they suddenly realize: they’re not where they want to be. Frank turns 30, and realizes he’s become his father, part of a nameless corporate machine. April’s dreams of becoming an actress are dashed. Their ambition and ideals are gone, replaced with a nice house and two children, all of which look just like everybody else’s. In an effort to recapture the magic of when they first met, they determine to follow through with plans made seven years earlier, to move to Paris and find out what each of their true passions lie.
The film is based on the popular Richard Yates novel, and was adapted for the screen by Justin Haythe. Director Sam Mendes clearly knows what he’s doing here, and it’s not, despite popular opinion, a whiny, self-indulgent piece about bored members of the upper, middle class. Mendes deftly directs an outrageously talented cast (Winslet just happens to be Mendes’ wife) to create a film that feels just right, a realistic human drama that forces more introspection than most people are willing to sign up for. While Revolutionary Road‘s story of unhappiness in the ‘burbs may seem a shade too familiar after Mendes’ American Beauty, Road is anything but a return to safe ground for the director. The acting really is remarkable. At least the Golden Globes got it right, and the Academy should have its tail between its legs for ignoring this unusually brilliant and nuanced performance by Winslet. Michael Shannon will make you very uncomfortable as he plays John Givings, the former, troubled intellect, robbed of his tact by electro-shock therapy, and Kathy Bates hits all the right notes as John’s perky mother who’s in denial. DiCaprio can’t quite keep up with Winslet, but is still thrilling to watch, and out does some of his more recent lackluster performances. A perfectly fitting original score is provided by 10 time Oscar nominee Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, WALL-E). All of these things work together to become more than the sum of its parts. Revolutionary Road is simply one of the best movies to come out of 2008 and certainly one of the most memorable.