Twelve years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet first teamed for Titanic, the all-time box office record holder. Director Sam Mendes has managed to reunite the duo for a different kind of disaster movie. Never has a marriage crumbled so horrifically on film as it does in Revolutionary Road.
Set in 1955, and based upon the 1962 Richard Yates novel, the film is nothing short of 2008’s greatest acting showcase. DiCaprio and Winslet—who won a Golden Globe for her performance—are heartbreaking and frightening as Frank and April Wheeler. When we first see them eyeing each other at a party, it’s easy to reminisce about them as Jack and Rose in Titanic. The two simply look like they belong together.
As it turns out, this is not the case—in a big way—when it comes to their new characters. When they first meet, April wants to be an actress, and Frank is a longshoreman. They wind up married, and Frank witnesses April’s pitiful performance in an amateurish play. Frank’s sad attempt at placating her afterwards winds up in a bitter roadside fight where the two tear each other apart. They are mortally wounded, and they’re going down. All of this happens before the opening title caption hits the screen.
They live in a Connecticut suburb, in a beautiful house, where they are raising two kids. In some ways, they believe this existence is beneath them. April had fashioned herself as more bohemian, and she’s not adjusting well to being a stay-at-home mom after her failed acting attempts. Frank has moved into a marketing position that is driving him crazy with boredom, spicing things up by occasionally dipping into the secretarial pool.
Stricken by the idea that she is just like everybody else, April comes up with a plan to ditch their American life, pack up the family, and move to Paris. In Paris, she will work while Frank gets a chance to discover “what he really wants to do with his life.” He warms up to the notion, which gives him a certain kind of aloof confidence at the workplace. Corporate takes notice, and they want Frank to move up the ladder. Paris sounds like fun, but the possibility of a promotion starts stoking Frank’s ego and sense of duty to his wife and kids.
The Paris plan enables a new spark between Frank and April, but that spark catches fire in a destructive way when Frank starts to have his doubts. Further developments render Paris closer to impossible in his mind, and April will have nothing of it. The resultant onscreen fights are devastating and brutal, the stuff of major tragedy. DiCaprio and Winslet make it all very real.
As a mentally troubled houseguest who actually has some of the more sane observations in the film, Michael Shannon captivates in his scenes as John Givings. John is disgusted at what he sees around him, as well, and his disdain has earned him some time at a mental hospital. They’d love this guy in the late ‘60s, but in the ‘50s, his views just don’t cut it. Adding to the Titanic reunion vibe is the presence of Kathy Bates as Helen, John’s mother. She’s Frank and April’s real estate agent, stopping by unannounced with a big smile on her face, secretly annoyed that they aren’t properly maintaining their lawn.
Let it be said that nobody gets upset on screen like DiCaprio. When he uncorks, the demonic forces of Hell come spewing out of his mouth and eyes. He makes you want to jump into the screen and escort Winslet to safety. And Winslet can bring the pain right back at him. You might actually find yourself worrying for their health while watching this movie. They are that good.