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revolutionary_road02The last time we saw Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio on screen together they were lovers in the midst of a huge disaster, Leo gasping for air as the cold waters of the Atlantic beckoned him to his death. In Revolutionary Road, their first pairing in eleven years, they once again play lovers, but this time they are drowning in a sea of shattered dreams, infidelity and boredom.

Based on a novel by Richard Yates—it was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1962 along with Catch-22 and The Moviegoer—it sees Frank (DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet) leaving the exciting world of New York City to raise their children in a quiet Connecticut suburb. Dreams and aspirations on hold—she wanted to act, he just wanted something exciting. “I want to feel things,” he says. “Really feel things. How’s that for an ambition?”—they get on with their work-a-day lives, until April has an idea to shake up their lives and save their decaying marriage. When the rescue plan falls apart, both April and Frank crumble under the weight of their stultifying suburban life.

As you may have guessed Revolutionary Road isn’t a laugh-a-minute. DiCaprio and Winslet have side stepped the burden of trying to live up to the success of their last pairing by making a very serious movie with little commercial appeal. It’s a movie that celebrates life’s failures, a partner’s inadequacies and the heaviness of a life unfulfilled. There’s no king of the world here and the only thing that goes down in flames is their marriage.

Set in 1955 it’s a peak behind the curtain of the lives of a seemingly perfect couple. They are popular, beautiful; their neighbors love them. “You’re the Wheelers!” one says, as if that’s all there is to say about their supposedly idyllic life. Behind the curtain it’s a different story.

Repression oozes from April as she tries to come to grips with the fact that she isn’t one of the “special people” she always dreamed she would be. Feeling like she has sold out her life and dreams of being a famous actress to settle down and have children has given her a severe case of the suburban blues. We soon learn she’s not alone, that the neighbors, with their carefully manicured lawns and freshly waxed cars, also have secrets. This is Blue Velvet without the severed ear or Mad Men without the glamour. It’s a penetrating, raw look at what happens when disappointment and regret become life’s motivating factors.

Winslet does good work here. April’s refusal to be a 1950s suburban Stepford wife fuels her every move and it’s a harrowing performance. Occasionally it feels a bit stagy, perhaps a bit too big for the screen, but when she says, “I thought we’d be wonderful,” you can taste the regret that drips from her lips.

DiCaprio looks born to play a 1950s era man. He suits the fashions, the hairstyles, the feel of the character. Like the movie, his take on Frank is on a low boil for most of the running time, slowly working towards the explosive final act of the film.

Revolutionary Road is bleak. It has the dry, stark feel of a British “kitchen sink” drama and while it is a brave film for all concerned—Winslet, DiCaprio and director Sam Mendes—it is so unremittingly unwelcoming, so brutal in its take on the human condition that I can’t recommend it to a wide audience.

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