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dir Sam Mendes; scr Justin Haythe
with Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Richard Easton, Zoe Kazan, Jay O Sanders, Max Casella, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins
release US 26.Dec.08, UK 30.Jan.09
08/US DreamWorks 1h59
Holiday tension: DiCaprio and Winslet
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
With this companion piece to American Beauty, Mendes digs into suburban life with a riveting and ultimately stark marital drama based on Richard Yates' classic novel. And it's the terrific acting that keeps us engaged.
In 1955 New England, April and Frank (Winslet and DiCaprio) have a picture-perfect house and two adorable kids (Ryan and Ty Simpkins). But they're increasing resentful of the path their lives have taken, and they explode into at each other from time to time. In a moment of desperation, April has a brainwave that sounds like a blast of fresh air to Frank. Their neighbours (Harbour and Hahn) are sceptical. And other friends (Bates and Easton) don't know what to say, although their unbalanced son (Shannon) does.
This is not a happy story, and it only takes Mendes a moment to descend into the first bitter argument between two people who feel trapped in their supposedly idyllic suburban life. As the film progresses, Frank and April desperately seek escape routes that offer hope and possibility. But these are just as much of a trap as their dream home on Revolutionary Road. And Mendes skilfully portrays this through expert production design, camera work, editing and Thomas Newman's echoing score.
Meanwhile, DiCaprio and Winslet act from the inside out, with panicking eyes and quavering voices resolving into all-out viciousness as well as cries for help. It's painful to watch, and carries strong echoes of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf as we follow the internal journeys of these two people through the way they punish each other for failing to make the American dream work the way it should. In other words, neither of them is remotely sympathetic.
And the side characters aren't much nicer, although they're just as vividly played. Bates' nosey, chattering estate agent and Harbour and Hahn's caring neighbours all have their heads in the sand. While the terrific Shannon adds a zing of scary insight and unpredictable earthiness to his scenes. These people need to break out and be who they are. But as one person asks, "Who is that?" And it's the final shot of Easton that reminds us how we cope.
The story's ultimate observation is extremely strong: dissecting the innate hopelessness of modern life's focus on success and prosperity. Does it require more backbone to work hard and be responsible or to live life as if it really matters? These provocative issues make the film hauntingly important. Although it's certainly not easy to watch.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
|Kallie Wilbourn, Las Vegas, New Mexico: "I thought this film flawed but so provocative. It reminded me of an important de Tocqueville idea, which posited that democracy in the U.S., with its leveling effect and rule of the majority, is completely at odds with the American ideal (stated but seldom realized) of individuality. Thus many of us have this hunger to be our own person, and the delusion that we should be able to realize the dream of individuality, but are thwarted at every turn by a highly conformist society -- perhaps one of the most conformist in the world, on an individual, essential level. (Where else has the corporate/military mind-set so insidiously taken over a society? And note that Frank Wheeler has served in the military, and works for a corporation.) The Wheelers (as said, excellently portrayed by the actors) are not sympathetic; but I sympathize with them, nonetheless. The film doesn't quite live up to the book, in which Yates' use of an omniscient point of view is much more effective, but it is a film well worth watching." (25.Jun.09)|
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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