An Excuse For 'Acting'
I have to admit, I went into this with a little trepidation. The trailers implied a film with little-to-no plot, and two people shouting and arguing a lot. Unfortunately, I wasn't proved wrong.
There's nothing wrong with the idea of an interesting drama documenting the break down of a marriage and/or abortion issues, but Revolutionary Road has no subtlety or progression in dealing with these. Essentially, the marriage is already broken at the start of the film. They start to dream of a new life that will give them a fresh start and fail. The marriage then descends into collapse and the unintentional death of a character.
Of course there's all sorts of 'meaningful' messages here. The real question, is whether they're told in an interesting and effective manner. With the exception of the 'slight' hopefulness of the two leads moving to Paris, the film is utterly one-tone. The characters are never really established with back-story or through any other narrative method. In essence, all we ever learn about them, is: "This is a suburban couple in the 50s. They shout at each other a lot and are apparently unsatisfied with their lives" They even have a couple of children that appear briefly in one or two scenes as plot devices, but otherwise seem not to exist. It's as though they have been shoe-horned in after 90% of the film has been completed, to be causes for more of the 'dramatic' scenes between the leads. Obviously this is not the case, but the way it is filmed and told, it may as well have been.
Any messages this film may have had, are lost in the contrived plot and barely even two-dimensional characters. Yes, the basic 'facts' of the story are as realistic or unrealistic as you want them to be, but they are all bound up in a false and extremely forced package. A sign of good characterisation is the ability to think "If (random event) happened to the character, how would they react?" and being able to formulate some idea of your own, based on what you have seen and heard. The two leads in Revolutionary Road had no consistency of character at any point. They were just hollow shells for DiCaprio and Winslet to 'act' with.
The whole film comes over as a contrived mess. One of those movies that make the old mistake of thinking "Lots of dramatic shouting, crying, and vacant long looks, equals good acting and drama." Yet perhaps that was their main point. To give Winslet and DiCaprio a vehicle in which to indulge in melodramatic over-the-top acting, without lumbering any of the 'acting' scenes with the problems that can be encountered when you establish characters, or give them real reason to behave the way they do. The 'plot' was simply a device by which to have 'emotional acting' scenes for the actors to enjoy getting their teeth into.
The highlights of the film, and some of the few moments it comes alive, are when the somewhat disturbed character of 'John Givings' (Played by Michael Shannon) pops up to deliver some 'home truths' so-to-speak. Sure, he's a blatant device used to hammer home the film's plot points/messages in case we missed them while watching, but nevertheless, he easily becomes the most interesting character in the whole mess. Inadvertently (Especially in his final scene) his character truly sums up the utter banality and pointlessness of the whole story, and how shallow and empty the characters are. Another highlight, is the very final moment of the film when the character's father turns off his hearing-aid in order to blank out the inane ramblings of his shallow wife. Which again, sums up the entire film perfectly.
Perhaps Revolutionary Road is best summed up as the acting equivalent of a bland, plotless summer blockbuster with lots of special effects. Except in this case the 'effects' are Winslet and DiCaprio's 'acting' for the sake of acting, and once you get past that, there's not a lot left that's Revolutionary.