Friday, January 2, 2009

Review: "Revolutionary Road" Grade: B+/B

"Revolutionary Road" (2008)
Grade: B+/B

First of all I realize that I am being easy on this and "Doubt" by giving them partly a B+. They really should have B's. But this is a combination vote of how much I enjoyed the films as well. Plus for all of the problems I have with both of the films', their best scenes are right at the top of the best of the year and there are whole chunks of scenes in both that blow my mind so that accounts for the B+ factor. Its successes count for a lot even if the ultimate overall success of the films for me are questionable.

“Revolutionary Road” is a tough film to review. I do not really know where I stand on it. I think I need to see it again to really decide. I will mostly talk about the film as an adaptation because it is how my other thoughts about the film can come about. As I read the reviews of folks who are extremely enthusiastic about the film I can see where they are coming from with their thoughts and sort of agree. Then when I read the reviews of the people who did not like the film I can also see where they are coming from. I very much liked the film but for me it just never really ascended into being a great film even though its last half hour to thirty five minutes is fantastic.

The adaptation to “Revolutionary Road” is very faithful to the book. Most of the dialogue is directly from the novel which was a new and rewarding as it allowed for scenes to be shown as almost literal translations to what I read which was so satisfying to see. One thing that is done is that the film lets us a bit more into April’s life. We see things from more of an equal perspective and even though she still comes off as cold and unlikable, the film is Frank and April’s film as opposed to Frank’s book. I liked this change very much even though the script and direction sort of drop the ball on Frank's development a bit. I feel that if Kate Winslet had not played April and an unknown actress was playing the role, then it would be more understandable to keep the book from Frank’s perspective but when the film is supposed to be a breakdown of a marriage with Kate Winslet starring, you know you are now going to have a character who has no point of view. I do not think this ruins anything depicted in the book because as I said before April still comes off as cold and unlikable but at least she becomes more sympathetic. Her life seems to have not gone the way she wanted it to. The unique and meaningful life she had dreamt of having never happened and she shows resentment towards her kids because of it and towards her husband because it makes the most sense for her to blame him. I do not think that by doing this we should have lessened what we understood about Frank but unfortunately because of the script’s inability to internalize Frank’s thoughts as they did in the book we are left with an equally perplexing understanding of Frank. Basically what is done is that they do more with April which makes her predicament clearer and does much to enhance the character but we never feel let into her psyche truly through the script; Winslet provides so much with her face though that she brings a lot more than what was there on the page. Then we have Frank whose character goes more undeveloped through again the scripts inability and Mendes’ unwillingness to show us a real struggle with Frank’s decisions. In the book he struggles with what to say, worrying about upsetting his wife after the play she is a part of. He ends up saying “Well that wasn’t exactly a triumph.” Instead of showing a struggle on his face as to what to say at all we simply see the end result of what he does say which ends up being insensitive. So while we have the same dialogue we do not have the struggle, we just get the line and since it is his first interaction with April in the present, he immediately comes off as insensitive.

Another instance is when Frank has an affair with Maureen the secretary. He does not know what to say after they have sex and he ends up saying “You were swell” and leaves her there in bed. Again this is from the novel if I recall but the internalization is not. I understand this is nearly impossible to convey but DiCaprio’s face is not properly used by the director during scenes like this because we are not given any chance to really see him before he says this, we do not get a moment when he is cautious. Even the way he goes about the affair comes off as something he does normally when in reality this was the first time he had done this. It is a big decision for Frank but we never see that. We do get a nice moment when he comes home from the affair to a surprise birthday party from his wife and kids. However they lose another opportunity to make Frank’s actions seem substantial to him when they do not have Frank try to tell April that night about the affair. They took so much from the novel word for word in terms of dialogue but they could not take a half a sentence? It would have inferred that Frank had not done that before if he had felt guilty enough to tell her about it that night but they do not do that.

Even though they did not flesh out these moments, there is something they cut out that I am ecstatic about. Frank carries on his affair with Maureen in both the film and the book but they do not show when Frank ends the relationship and when Maureen’s roommate confronts Frank about his intentions. He tells the roommate off and then laughs about it afterwards and laughs after he ends his affair with Maureen (even though he knows she is in love with him) to the point where he has to stop his car to calm down. It’s pretty much a horrible reaction to have and I am happy they cut it out.

Another thing I am happy that they cut out was all of the stuff with the plans for April to visit the psychiatrist. It is brought up and it is definitely in the film but it is not as substantial as it is in the book. Even in the film it came off as misplaced and dated psychiatric evaluation on Frank’s part that would have felt really unfounded in the film.

I did not appreciate the omission of the letter at the end of the film. I find it to be crucial but apparently the filmmakers did not.

Anyways, Frank is still underdeveloped in many ways and April is more developed than in the book but neither are fully fleshed out characters from the script, they meet in the middle with their development. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet make their characters what they are and they are admittedly able to do so much with Frank and April through their faces. DiCaprio takes a while to get going but once we hit a certain point in the film he really nails it. He is remarkable in the last 35 minutes. His face as he eats breakfast near the end is heartbreaking as we realize that his longing for a different life really is not what he needs; he just needs April to be loving and content with where they are and that is enough for him. For April she cannot function in that life, she does not just need love from her husband; everything she needs she does not have and cannot have. She is incapable of thinking about her kids’ happiness and her husband’s happiness once it gets to a point where she cannot take it anymore. Winslet does not take any time getting going and gives an incredible performance here filled with expressions that speak volumes and delivering lines that cut so deep. These are two very brave performances that push further and further…and then further. Winslet’s face during pretty much every scene she is in is entrancing. I cannot explain how Winslet gave such a deep performance with April and yet the film manages somehow to make us merely distantly observant. It is a cold film that promotes self reflecting during and after the film which is not very fun.

Something that they kept which I loved and greatly contributed to the successful elements in the film was that they kept the scenes with Shep and Milly by themselves intact. We got to understand Shep’s predicament and to see them as a couple as well so when everything happens it becomes important for everyone involved. The scene when Shep explains to Milly that he thinks that Frank and April’s decision to move to Europe is immature is incredible and honestly could be the most substantial scene in the film for me. Milly inexplicably breaks down when she hears that he is against the move they are making and it is never explained why. But it is because the Wheeler’s decision forced them to think about their own lives and where they were at. When Milly hears that Shep thinks the idea is immature she is officially allowed to look down on it and to feel content with her suburban life again instead of being threatened with the idea that Shep and she are trapped as well. Her reassurance of their lives causes her to break down. It is a remarkable little scene that adds so so much to the final film.

Michael Shannon steals his scenes as John Givings easily giving one of the greatest book-to-screen performances ever. I have nothing but praise for him. Some of his lines and the way he delivers them are like the equivalent of knife going into you. He also has what for me was the most important and telling line in the book and film about how couples are able to recognize the emptiness but it takes real guts to recognize the hopelessness. I also need to point out pretty much everyone else. Kathy Bates is great. Zoe Kazan is excellent as Maureen completely capturing her persona in the book. I was very impressed by her. Lastly Milly and Shep played by Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour are soooo good here as well. The whole film features great acting.

The last 35 minutes of the film is pure gold pretty much. Even though we are never really let into the lives of these two the way we would like it is still an incredible final 35 minutes. The way Winslet is photographed as she dances with Shep is stunning. The blowout between Frank and April is insanely awesome and it took my breath away. I honestly cannot even explain it. DiCaprio’s blow up as he mixes sadness, anger and overwhelming frustration is a marvel to see. The last scene with John was painfully awkward and powerful. The breakfast scene is absolutely astounding. April’s course of events after Frank leaves is very moving. And everything after that not to give everything away is just so powerful even without the intense emotional involvement on the viewer’s part. And they keep the ending exactly the same as it is in the book which is not something they needed to do but they did and I am so happy they did. I could go on and on about each of these scenes but I will not.

Also a great core from the always fantastic Thomas Newman, my favorite film composer and incredible cinematography from once again Roger Deakins, the master.

All in all it was a mixed experience. Honestly I was pleased with all of it; none of it was bad at all. The scenes ranged from decent to incredible. The performances were the strongest part of the movie, fittingly so with everyone really giving it 110%. It is a film that leaves you in a weird mood as it is uncomfortably relatable at times even at my young age. Even though the film captures the dullness and repetitiveness and the eventual boredom and ordinary qualities that come with settling down and it really does a fantastic job of adapting the screenplay in terms of how faithful they are to the dialogue and story, I still felt distant from the film afterwards. I do not know if this was the intention but it was how I felt. I never felt sucked in completely with the characters even if I was sucked into certain scenes and to the end. I understand that Frank and April are not supposed to be very likable but something was lost in the translation from book to screen that made for a much more observant experience as opposed to a participatory one while some films are supposed to feel that way (mainly in some arthouse foreign films to broadly use the term) I do not know if that was the intention here. It made for a sort of confusing experience. Between this and the fact that I felt the script never pushed the characters to the next level and the direction was sometimes too unconcerned with developing Frank’s character, these are some flaws or at least the latter ones are since I still cannot figure out the intention of the distance you feel during it. But overall this is a worthy experience to have because it offers several strong aspects to it, I was interested throughout and the acting on display here is just tops; there are few films this year that match up to it in terms of the ensemble. I am still thinking about the film even though I saw it 3 days ago; it has stuck with me and that cannot be a bad thing right?

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