27 December 2008

Review: Revolutionary Road, Written as a Letter to Kate Winslet

Genre: Drama (Domestic)

Dear Kate,

I have been a fan of your work for quite some time, even since your great début in 1994's Heavenly Creatures, and so it was certainly with an anticipatory relish that I presented the trailer for your latest project - a project for which you yourself fought so hard, to have the opportunity to be made - namely, this year's Revolutionary Road. A domestic drama clearly, even from the trailer, a play therefore familiar to the followers of your and your husband's works (especially Little Children [2006] and American Beauty [1999] respectively), the work goes about like its predecessors, describing the story of one or more suburban couples in crisis - crises individual, ontological, and existential, all bracketed together by circumstance, so that they together may add up in most ways to something greater than the mere flat sum of their distinct parts - a feat of effected greatness extremely and brilliantly evident in both Little Children and American Beauty. However, for Revolutionary Road - though it pains me to say it, for the bearing and the skill of those who took part in its creation - the beating of the characters' wings against the cage, their struggling to achieve, and their fearing that they may not be able to do so all fumble instead of boil, trowel instead of sculpt, the two hours they spend lingering on the spectator's screen. The unfortunate result of this unmitigated bandying about is that the film fails to collect itself, to gather enough strength of coherence to supply its spectators with any thing more than a series of such blighty vignettes or dour snapshots of phrase as have already been briefly described, such as would be much more adept, as they stand now, as mere tangential illustrations of your former Sarah's (from Little Children) mental image of Madame Bovary than as constructive, narrating forces of their own. The holes that litter them; that cause them to leak in flow, in pace, and in balance; irrecoverably, saddeningly just deplete whatever reserves of virtue there otherwise might have been in them and, then despairing, just leave you and your co-star, Mr. DiCaprio, rather helpless and in the buff.
Yet, though I am clearly sad for this failure, I'm not sure if it can entirely be your fault - your as prime momentum of the film's development - nor your husband's fault for that matter, as the director's - though arguably as the director he is the more responsible party in any case. To address each problem shortly: The screenplay was a difficult one; an adaptation of story that was obviously so literary in its bases provides a tremendous task for any screenwriter - however not one that is altogether impossible. Perhaps, instead of choking up in high-ramped emotional scenes and ghastly still interiors - a vacillation between extremes that were so disparate that they felt incompatible - the play could have considered itself more thoroughly internally - apart from all the small and transparently affected actions like the potato peeling, smoking, and dancing and more in the moment, in absence among fullness and little but full shots of set decoration that could have told the story more keenly. To such an end I was hopeful for a while, toward the beginning of the film, for the scene when your April clears off the bedding from the couch without ever saying anything: an adaptation that seemed to have truly taken on the form most compatible with the verbal density of its source material, a density otherwise non-transferrable to the visual medium of film directly. Yet, that instance, as the the film laxed on, seemed to be the only instance of such rich, appropriate observance.
Roger Deakins' cinematography, to which I had been so looking forward, was flabby and erratic, varying between sequences of tight control and periods of nearly interminable stasis, always with inconsistent framing and counterproductive distance; and - to be frank - your husband's staid direction only made it worse: You and your surrounding actors for the most part moved with a stiffness and a vocal peculiarity that could have been right for the stage but seemed almost silly and over-the-top for the screen. And Mr. Newman's score, which could have at least suggested the incredible depth of feeling I know potentially lay within this particular piece - for why else would have been so attracted to it? - just reeked of a stingy self-importance, such that it sounded almost like a jukebox: press a button and out pops a, yes, unique but also extremely redundant tune. I wonder, when will he see fit to revisit the adventurous side of his composing again and let minimilistic scores for domestic dramas be for a time, lest they become like McMansions in their repetitive decaying edifices?
O, Kate; so many things just didn't go as well as they should have gone this time. We all know you deserve - and have well deserved above those other women who have beaten you - the official recognition a golden statuette would confer onto you; but on a leading nomination, if I were you, I would not want to count this year. Your fellow actor, Mr. Michael Shannon, may expect one though, as despite the limitations of both his part and the play itself he delivered a top-notch, tremendous, and necessarily catalystic performance.
Here's to hoping your The Reader is better.

All the best,
R.

Grade: B/B-.

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