Revolutionary Road
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (9th June 2009).
The Film

Adopting a novel or screenplay into a work of fiction is all about striking up a delicate balance between staying true to the original work and bringing something new to the table with a film. A direct and pure adaptation is great in terms of fan service, but may not have the power to really create something that’s great to watch. Frank Darabont’s adaptation of “The Mist” (2007) remained true to the original novella with room for tremendous expansion in the creation of the amazing looking monsters, while keeping the story almost exactly the same until a dramatic ending that had even Stephen King shocked. At the same time there are adaptations like Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” (2005) that draw from the novel to build into a larger piece, thematically similar yet changing the plot and characters of the story. Above all though these adaptations didn’t feel just like books on screen, or just a filmed play, they added something unique visually to the film’s adaptation that couldn’t have been present in the written form. When I first saw trailers for “Revolutionary Road” (2008) it looked like a 2 hour exercise in arguing, and didn’t get my interest. After I found out it was based on a critically acclaimed novel of the same name, it still didn’t do much for me until I saw Sam Mendes of “American Beauty” (1999) fame was directing, bringing me hope about something visually interesting between the shouting matches. Unfortunately the film falls into the trap of adaptation where it’s completely disengaging for people new to the work, it feels like a filmed play and Mendes doesn’t show the same kind of visual brilliance he flexed in “American Beauty.”

Set in 1950’s United States Suburbia, “Revolutionary Road” begins as Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) meet conversationally at a party, quickly appearing to jump into marriage and a family on revolutionary road in suburbia. Early on both Frank and April express their dreams of becoming more than just the typified image of 50’s life, April aspires to being an actress and Frank has always talked of Paris and France, but their suburban family life seems to be dragging them and their relationship down, cue shouting match. On Frank’s birthday, April suprises him with a plan to move to Paris with their savings where she’ll work as a secretary while Frank figures out what to do. Unfortunately their plans are botched as Frank is offered a raise and promotion at his office while April discovers that she is pregnant once again, causing Frank to cancel plans for travel based on these new developments, cue more shouting/arguing. Out of frustration and unhappiness, both seek affairs, while April gets a device to try and abort the child early on with the hopes of it giving them back their chance at happiness, but of course Frank disagrees and they argue about it.

My first impression of the film was just 2 hours of arguing, but instead I got 2 hours of unhappiness supplemented by arguing. In their attempt to capture the cruel side of 50’s Americana, it leaves me with a need to watch “Mad Men” (2007-Present), which deals with the same sort of issues but on a larger level, especially since it’s a TV show and thus has more episodes and time. Problematizing the idea of domesticity that was so popular at the time can easily be done through giving the kind of depth of character, while adding a sort of bizarre twist, that “Mad Men” manages to accomplish, while “Revolutionary Road” defines unhappiness in a couple fairly one-dimensionally. Kate Winslet’s role as the lonely and isolated housewife is an interesting and fair point, but they don’t really capitalize on either character, outside of the sheer drama of their arguments.

Both DiCaprio and Winslet’s presence in the film, as big name actors who are incredibly renowned for their chemistry while playing a couple that seems to have very little real chemistry screams Oscar-bait to me. All of the arguments, drama and yelling all seem like a straight shot at trying to achieve an Oscar, making the film all the more frustrating as it’s more about awards than story.

Overall, the most shocking part of the film was the fact that Sam Mendes didn’t manage to give out a great visual style to the film. Especially teamed with cinematographer Roger Deakins I expected a greater visual sense in the film. Technically it’s all there, lighting matches mood and generates tone for different scenes, but it all seems incredibly plain. I get that the film is supposed to show the monotony of the lifestyle but honestly the directing can do more and help bring me into the movie rather than just frustrating me even more. “Revolutionary Road” is a film where I walk away saying ‘I get it, but so what?’ as I haven’t really committed anything to characters or style involved in the film. I like the message that they’re trying to do in the plot, and the ending I thought made it more interesting, but not worth the 2 hour trip when I could watch just the pilot of “Mad Men” and get more out of it.

Video

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film’s transfer is clean and clear, though not quite as crisp as I’ve gotten used to as it gets easier to see the small little problems in resolution lost in DVD as compared to Blu-ray. However I can’t fault the format and the image is otherwise clear, but the plain directing is the biggest visual drawback as all of the modes notes and tones were fairly plain and lack the sharpness of style to help out with the visual formatting.

Audio

The Audio is presented in an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, audio is also available in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The 5.1 sound provides a clear soundtrack that allows the sound to present itself cleanly and clearly. There’s a fairly nice score lurking behind the film, with some repeated themes and notes that resemble “American Beauty” but don’t quite deliver the same punch, but maybe just because Thomas Newman used his best stuff for “WALL•E” (2008) last year.
Subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

The disc comes equipped with a few essential extras, including an audio commentary, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and bonus trailers.

First is the audio commentary with director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe. Not being too interested in the film, I wasn’t looking too forward to the commentary, but these two actually do a good job of talking through the entire film and bringing up fairly interesting points along the way. There’s talk of different actors on the set, working with the many different people involved in the film, inspirations drawn from different photographs at the time, and various little insights into the film. In terms of a commentary track, it’s fairly good and gives some insight as to why Mendes decided to shoot the film so plainly, but doesn’t get me any more interested in the film than I was before and after I saw it.

“Lives of Quiet Desperation: The Making of Revolutionary Road” runs for 29 minutes and 1 second. This featurette covers the making-of the film from novel to film, from thematic angles from the perspective of all the major actors and crew members. People talk about what attracted them to their different roles and what lies at the heart of the different characters, getting everyone involved in the film, all matched up with clips and stills from the film as well as behind-the-scenes footage and the usual making of fodder. It’s fairly well put together for the making of that shows everything from finding the right house to the right costumes.

Finally are the deleted scenes, 5 in all, with optional audio commentary with director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe:

- “I’m Sorry” runs for 1 minute and 22 seconds, Frank wakes up and stops April from mowing the lawn, Sam Mendes talks about liking the scenes that got cut.
- “Birthday” runs for 2 minutes and 50 seconds, Frank talks about a story in the war when he suddenly realized it was his birthday, Mendes and Haythe talk about it being a good moment.
- “Bit Shot” runs for 1 minute and 9 seconds, a full cut of Frank’s journey to work and flashback to his childhood, the duo talk about how the story of Frank’s father gets removed.
- “Nothing’s Permanenet” runs for 1 minute and 17 seconds, April flashes back to when she and Frank first got their house, the duo talk about the pain of loosing the scene from the film.
- “Dear Frank” runs for 3 minutes and 12 seconds, Frank returns home to where April died, Shep comes looking for him, Mendes talks about how they changed up the scene and why it was cut.

Bonus trailers on the disc are:

- “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” runs for 2 minutes and 45 seconds.
- “Defiance” runs for 2 minutes and 15 seconds.
- “There Will Be Blood” runs for 2 minutes and 12 seconds.

Overall

The Film: D Video: B+ Audio: A- Extras: C- Overall: C

 


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