Revolutionary Road (DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage, R)

revolutionary_kate.jpgOf course, Mendes has made a career out of directing for the stage and only sometimes for the screen, so my feeling is that he pushed our otherwise trustworthy Kate and Leo into these embarrassingly awful, career-worst performances.

 

 

 

 

 

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And here we have my pick for worst film of 2008. Granted, Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road is not exactly boring: it has a good cast and good production values, and it tries to position itself among other movies of the sort I love (that being dramas about bitchy people treating each other crappily, of the Closer/Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?/Neil LaBute sort), but all of these things just serve to make it worse — i.e., How can this movie possibly be this bad when it has all of these great things going for it?

Of course, Revolutionary Road is much-touted and highly anticipated for at least two reasons: it reunites Titanic’s lovers Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and also because it marks the first time that Winslet’s husband, Sam Mendes, has directed her in a film. Just so that we’re clear, I do not think that either Leo or Kate are overrated as a whole; they are among our finest young actors. But here, both of them are terrible. Terrible. I attribute this more to Mendes than to Kate and Leo themselves — inside of the pre-title sequence you’ll be amazed by how much they are both acting like stage actors instead of screen actors, all projecting to the back row and gesticulating wildly and being mannered in a way that nobody actually is. Of course, Mendes has made a career out of directing for the stage and only sometimes for the screen, so my feeling is that he pushed our otherwise trustworthy Kate and Leo into these embarrassingly awful, career-worst performances.

There’s also a lot of odd preciousness behind the film that doesn’t quite add up. It seems like it could have only been a promotional stunt to reunite Kate and Leo (not to mention Kathy Bates, another Titanic alum), as their mechanic really does nothing but distract from the story. On top of that, there’s the fact that her character, April, is a failed actress who becomes a housewife, which seems like some sort of statement when the film is directed by her husband (what that statement is, exactly, is up for debate). And while I admit that this is not so much a problem of the film’s as it is a personal hangup, but it gives me the willies when a director directs his wife in sex/nude scenes with other actors.

The plot of Revolutionary Road, such as it is, is that Kate’s April and Leo’s Frank Wheeler are young marrieds who seem to never really love each other in the first place, and gradually come to hate one another and treat each other worse and worse throughout the course of the movie. As I said, I tend to like movies like this — it’s so fun to watch Clive Owen sink his teeth into someone in Closer; he’s so incisive and mean! — but here you just want all of the characters to fuck off and die. They aren’t endearing or smart or funny, they aren’t fun to watch, they aren’t interesting at all in their nastiness, and the whole thing is just an unbelievable mess.

What’s particularly odd is that, after seeing the film, it seemed to me that no one would like this movie. As any of my regular readers know, I do often have a tendency to dislike movies that pretty much everyone else loves, but this didn’t feel like one of those — it just seemed like science fiction that anyone would think that this movie was even remotely good. But in the time since I’ve seen it, it has already been nominated for four Golden Globes (Best Drama, Actor, Actress, Director) and it has won a handful of critics prizes from major cities, as well. What the hell? For once, I’m anxious to see how audiences react to this one; as uneasy an alliance as it might be, I think I’ll be siding with them this time around. | Pete Timmermann

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