There are a lot of horror films that have sent chills up the spines of audiences over the years. Whether it be a revenge-seeking monster or a demon possessed child, we’ve seen some scary images in film. But at the end of the day, we can rationalize the horror away by pointing out that those films are either pure fiction, or extreme cases that only apply to a very small percentage of the population. But I can honestly say that REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is one of the scariest films you will see. Not because of any images of blood and guts, but because it manages to portray a scarily realistic image of what marriage is like for nearly every couple in America.
So maybe I’m being dramatic; REVOLUTIONARY ROAD isn’t exactly a horror film, but it sticks with you in a way that few films can. It’s not that it features any startling revelations; it’s that it expresses a reality that most of us don’t talk about. I can admit that discussing the sacrifices and choices you make as an individual and as a couple can be a daunting task and then discussing the options you have after you’ve made those choices can be claustrophobic. So it’s with much admiration that I give credit to Sam Mendes for directing this film in such a powerful manner that the fear, claustrophobia and urgency transpire on screen and into the audience’s eyes.
The film begins with Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslett) arguing after April participates in a community play with a less than stellar performance. It’s an awkward scene and we don’t yet understand where the animosity is coming from, or why they go at each other so viciously, but it’s captivating nonetheless. The tone is set early on and it’s obvious that we’re about to watch two of the best performances we’ve ever seen on film. It’s clear throughout the film that Frank and April are the kind of characters that every actor dreams about, but more than that, it’s obvious that less than 1% of the actors alive have the talent to pull them off.
After the initial fight, we get a few flashbacks intermixed with their real-time situation. Basically, they start off enamored with each other during the flashbacks, but after a couple of kids and a house, each of them feels the confines of their own prison. April is trapped by the kids and the house while Frank is imprisoned with his pedestrian job. But, April has a plan to escape the confines of Middle America by moving to Paris and living out their dreams of being free and “special”. But as it always does, life gets in the way.
Like most married couples, Frank and April struggle to verbalize their fears and disappointment. The filmmakers knew this and that’s why John (Michael Shannon) was inserted into the film. John is the son of Helen Givings (Kathy Bates), who is the realtor for Frank and April. On leave from the local mental institution, he comes over for brunch to meet the happy couple. But he tells it like it is and makes everyone uncomfortable. Frank and April handle John admirably during the first encounter because they have no trouble admitting to the “hopeless emptiness” that fills their lives. They’ve accepted it, and that’s why they’re moving to France. Let’s just say that the second encounter does not go as well.
I found the film to be breathtaking for the directing and performances alone, but the film is more than what it portrays on the surface. It’s a poignant, if not depressing, look at the choices that all of us make. The performances, coupled with the insightful look at married life, make this an extremely powerful film.