Revolutionary Road is a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf for a new generation -- a magnificent dramatic explosion with the kind of sheer force we haven't seen on screen in years.
Novelist Richard Yates tried for years to bring his 1961 story of marital trouble in '50s suburbia to the screen but died before seeing it finally come to fruition in the form of this scorching adaptation by writer Justin Haythe. April (Kate Winslet) and Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) are young marrieds, living what appears to be the ideal life in the Connecticut of the 1950s. He has a nice job, she is a mother of two with dreams of an acting career. But beneath the surface is a lingering dissatisfaction with their lives; Frank is having an affair with an office worker (Zoe Kazan), and April is terribly unhappy with the way her life is turning out. They engage in ferocious arguments, constantly disproving the idea they are the perfect couple. One day April decides the answer to all their problems is to move to Paris and start over. Frank initially agrees, but the relationship goes downhill even further from there and things spiral out of control.
Revolutionary Road's brilliant ensemble ignites and delivers on just about every level imaginable. Kate Winslet, who seemingly can do no wrong these days, is heartbreakingly good as a housewife who foreshadows the feminist movement. Her April is an ambitious, confused woman tragically living a couple of beats ahead of her time. Leonardo DiCaprio gives his finest film performance as a man who knows he is not living up to his potential but seems to be in a state of denial trying, almost pathetically, to keep what's left of his marriage and family together. It's the subtext and unspoken words between them that really give power to these tremendously effective performances. After the first 10 minutes, you will be so mesmerized by their raw, naked acting you will forget you are watching the two young stars who first appeared together in Titanic a decade earlier. Kathy Bates as a cheerful real estate agent with her own family problems is also quite good, as is Michael Shannon, as her disturbed grown son who seems to know more about the sad state of the Wheelers home life than anyone realizes. He should be a frontrunner for the supporting actor Oscar if there is any justice. Also blending in nicely are Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour as neighbors who are the polar opposite of Frank and April.
Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for directing yet another stinging view of suburbia with his Oscar-winning American Beauty does another great job of bringing out the essence of what Yates says about a generation hiding behind a façade of happiness but living on the cusp of great, profound social change. Mendes lets long dialogue scenes play out, packing them with riveting moments. His filmmaking style should be savored for the insights it provides and the emotional challenges it presents. Mendes also manages to get an extraordinary portrayal of suburban angst from his real-life wife Winslet. Not since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton battled so brazenly in 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf has there been a wounded couple's marriage so deeply and poignantly exposed on screen.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.