Editors' pick

Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road movie poster
MPAA rating: R
Genre: Drama
In 1950s Connecticut, two suburbanite couples (Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet) become increasingly dissatisfied with their marriage and society's expectations of conformity. Based on Richard Yates' novel.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, Kathryn Hahn
Director: Sam Mendes
Running time: 1:59
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Editorial Review

"Plenty of people are on to the emptiness. But it takes real guts to see the hopelessness."

That's one of the funniest lines in "Revolutionary Road," but it's not played for laughs in this somber, almost dirge-like adaptation of the 1961 novel by Richard Yates. A chamber piece of horrors set in 1950s suburbia, Sam Mendes's spiritually depleted film exerts an undeniable pull as its beautiful, doomed protagonists navigate the ennui of adult life. "Revolutionary Road" provides an apt bookend to a holiday season drenched in fatalistic gloom.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet play Frank and April Wheeler, who are leading lives of not-very-quiet desperation. Frank, who works for a business machine company in Manhattan, seems slowly to be becoming his late father. April, who stays at home with the couple's two children, is clearly miserable.

Frank and April make fitful, furtive attempts to be happy. Frank pursues an affair (played by the wonderfully expressive Zoe Kazan). April hits on the idea of moving to Paris.

The subtext of "Revolutionary Road" is that the Wheelers are supposed to be hip, vaguely bohemian or, as April calls them, "special." But the irony they uneasily embody instead curdles into an increasingly toxic sludge of resignation, resentment and dissatisfaction.

Those emotions play with fascinating depth across the face of Winslet. The entire psychological arc of "Revolutionary Road" can be discerned in April's face.

Frank is a squishier character. DiCaprio still seems too boyish, too insubstantial, to be playing a man coping with the realities of adulthood. But it's precisely that childishness that's called for in "Revolutionary Road," where it seems, as one visitor notes, they're playing house.

That visitor, by the way, is a mentally unstable man named John, played in the movie's finest performance by Michael Shannon.

Yates's novel, which was revolutionary in itself as a masterpiece of realist fiction, has deservedly earned many admirers the past 40 years. But Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe are content with a mere plot-and-dialogue adaptation, bleaching out the book's Proustian sense of detail and observant humor. The result is that "Revolutionary Road" is a hard movie to love. Plenty of people will appreciate the hopelessness, but they might wish for a little less emptiness.

-- Ann Hornaday (Jan. 2, 2009)

Contains profanity, sexuality and nudity.