07 January 2009

Filmbook: "Revolutionary Road" (2008)

Hey look! We're getting near the end of the Hype Train!* Ahem.

Why don't we cut to the chase? (Without any spoilers, that is.) "Revolutionary Road," the Sam Mendes-directed film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, is not a perfect movie. Nor is it my favorite movie of the year. But I really liked it, and I think it's about the best possible adaptation Yates could have gotten.

I really liked how much of the original text was incorporated into the dialogue and design of the film, even as I acknowledge that Roger Deakins' assured and confident cinematography couldn't quite make up for the absence of Yates' descriptions. While screenwriter Justin Haythe cut my favorite scene from the book (it involves Maureen, and that's all I will say!) out of the film, it preserves almost everything else except shifting the opening scene a bit. DiCaprio, while not my first choice for the role, surprised me with his take on Frank, but I'll never be able to forget Kate Winslet as April Wheeler.

(In fact, it surprises me that the buzz on her performance in another movie I saw last weekend, "The Reader," is much more positive. I can't do "The Reader" as a Filmbook entry properly, because I read the novel ages ago and have since forgotten about it, but I will say that the movie is like a book that starts slowly, gets really good in the middle, and then trails off at the end such that you wonder why you persevered. And while I like Winslet in everything, this is one of those showy Look She Got Ugly performances.)

Maybe it's just because I liked the book so much, but I was willing to overlook some of the subtlety that was lost in adaptation. Some of the issues treated here have been better handled by episodes of "Mad Men," but the AMC show has 13 episodes to develop, and "Revolutionary Road" didn't. Nor was I very much reminded of "American Beauty," Mendes' debut to which this film has been endlessly compared because they're both set in the American suburbs. In fact, quite the opposite -- like the book, this film addresses some very modern issues of self-actualization and the quest for happiness, which I think will help it age better than "Beauty." Frank and April's problems aren't created by (and solved through escape from) the '50s; it's much too deep for that.

To be fair, a few things I didn't like: Mendes and Deakins uses a particular shot of DiCaprio a few times that does him no favors in the close-up. (There's also a very obvious moment in Grand Central Station that felt a little lazy.) In the supporting-performance roundup, the women (Zoe Kazan as Maureen was my favorite) easily trump the men: David Harbour as the neighbor next door projects an air of blankness, while Michael Shannon, an actor I've seen and liked on stage, is ill served by the clich├ęd scenes that surround him. (Exception to this rule: Dylan Baker as Frank Wheeler's do-nothing coworker -- delicious.) And the final scene, while it is from the book, just feels a little too pat.

Overall, I think Yates would be happy -- particularly with the scene at the bar, which is really the climax of the film -- and that makes me happy. I'd even wager a movie this honest and cutting could not have been made in his own time.

Filmbook Verdict: Read the book, then see the movie.

*The caboose, clearly, is the Academy Awards... or the nomination announcements if for some reason this movie doesn't get nominated for anything. I highly doubt that.

No comments: