recent release – ¦ ¦- REVOLUTIONARY ROAD – ¦ ¦- 9/10 – ¦ ¦- review online FRI.17.APR.

Road To Perdition and Jarhead suggested not only that Sam Mendes' debut was a glorious fluke, but also that his directorial career might turn out to comprise a steady downward slide. Not a bit of it. Revolutionary Road, his adaptation of Richard Yates' near-universally revered 1961 novel, is by some measure the best thing he's ever done, confirming Mendes as a major talent in current world cinema. That said, the early stretches in the story – tracing the stormy marriage between April and Frank Wheeler (Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio) in mid-fifties Connecticut suburbia – aren't promising, proceeding with an offputtingly sumptuous and high-toned approach to period detail that threatens to suffocate the human drama. Very gradually, as the Wheelers realise that that their dreams of escape (to Paris) are illusory, does the film take shape as a nightmarish – but at times darkly comic – journey into self-loathing, self-deceit, self-destruction.
   The contribution of supporting-player Michael Shannon - as a mentally unstable visitor who unleashes a torrent of home truths on the Wheelers, exposing their dysfunction and hypocrisy with bracing mercilessness – is crucial, setting up a final act that is shattering in its intensity and compelling in its psychological complexity. The two leads are notably well-cast (and not just because of the ironic Titanic echoes) and have never been better, or better used: DiCaprio a cocky man-child whose features, under extreme duress, seem to contract into the very middle of his disconcertingly rhomboid visage. How startling to find Mendes steering us so precisely into Douglas Sirk and Todd Haynes territory, but without the consoling element of camp: a cruel imitation of life, very far from heaven indeed.

Neil Young
17th April, 2009

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director : Sam Mendes
country : USA/UK
year : 2008
run-time : 119m (BBFC)

seen : 10th April, 2009
cinema : Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
format : 35mm
paid :  £6.00

MVP : Michael Shannon
respected second opinion : Sandy English, WSWS