"Jesus Christ, you really are being melodramatic about this WHOLE thing," April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) cries emphatically during one of the many verbal assaults with her husband Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008). The same line, unfortunately, can be applied to this film, a messy, cliché ridden tale of love gone wrong in the suburbs that tries to be both a Sirkian critique on the social mores of the 1950's and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but ends up closer to a lesser episode of Desperate Housewives than anything else.
The tone of the film varies widely, often in the same scene, and Mendes and company have a hard time deciding what this film is actually about. Is it an attack on suburban ideals? Or is it a quiet and studious chronicle of a marriage dissolving into something totally unrecognizable? Or is it simply just a flimsy film designed around a mammoth two-piece acting challenge? The film is pretty meh on the first two counts but, on the last one, it's an epic fail. Normally, I love Kate Winslet and I've grown to love Leonardo DiCaprio after The Aviator and The Departed, but their acting just wasn't up to snuff this go-around. DiCaprio has reverted back to his whiny, adolescent, "look at me, ma!" style of acting that I thought had been eliminated in the past four years. And poor Kate Winslet. She's trying so hard to get that elusive Oscar and you can start to see the desperation in her performance. Everything she (and DiCaprio, too, frankly) does in Revolutionary Road is basically screaming for the Academy to notice what a great actress she is. They are both much better actors than this and honestly don't need to resort to such cheap theatrics and shameless Oscar baiting techniques to convince us of their talent. Among the supporting cast, Kathy Bates does well with her few scenes, effectively diffusing the desperation of her character through wide, empty and hilarious gestures and line readings, but it's Michael Shannon, as her mentally unstable son, who really steals the film. The character is nothing more than a hopelessly transparent plot device to highlight the insanity of the ideals of the 50's and how only the Wheelers and this "crazy" fellow can see that their plan to abandon their comfortable life for one of adventure in Paris is not as insane or horrible as everyone else seems to think, but Shannon completely sells this characature as a real person in his three scenes. He's electric and provides quite a jolt to the proceedings (yes, even more than the vicious Leo and Kate fights)- his final scene especially, in which he denounces the Wheeler's entire life and existence in a roaring monologue over dinner- but he also knows when to pull back and not go completely over-the-top with his insanity. If only the rest of the film had shown the same restraint. C+