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Revolutionary Road (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/2/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/31/2009

This is going to make me sound like some sort of neo-conservative (which, trust me, I'm not), but here's a question which I often find myself asking: What does Hollywood have against marriage? It seems that every movie and TV show portray marriage as an awful pit of suffering in which women are out to ensnare men. Once someone gets married, according to the entertainment which we watch, they stop having fun, stop having sex (this one is always emphasized), and constantly fight. On what is this based? If this were true, then there wouldn't be any marriages. The drama Revolutionary Road brings this message home and never lets up.

Revolutionary Road opens at a party, where Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) meet. In a jarring move, the story then leaps ahead nearly a decade. Frank and April are married and live in the suburbs and they have two children. Frank works in the city, while April is a housewife. As we catch up with the couple, April has just participated in a local theater production. (She had studied to be an actress.) The failure of this play leads to a huge fight between Frank and April. The next day, they reconcile and begin to talk about their lives. Frank had visited Paris when he was in the military, and April asks him about this. He describes Paris as a vibrant place. April confesses that she has done the math and concluded that the family could afford to move to Paris and start their lives over again. Frank is surprised by this revelation, but he quickly embraces the plan, as he feels that their marriage and their entire existence has reached a dead end. Despite the fact that everyone around them questions their decision, the trans-Atlantic plan invigorates the couple and they begin to get along better than they have in years. However, as with any plans, there will be challenges here -- often devastating ones.

From the outset, Revolutionary Road is in your face, presenting a relationship which is brimming with problems. Director Sam Mendes has made the risky decision to introduce us to Frank and April and then, within the first five minutes of the movie, suddenly leap ahead to a time seven years into their marriage where they are having a knock-down-drag-out fight. We don't get a chance to see a courtship or the blossoming of their union. The movie throws us headfirst into the turmoil and we are off on an emotional roller-coaster. It becomes very clear that Frank and April have been unhappy for quite some time. The story shows us how lonely April is at home and how unfulfilled Frank is with his job. There are arguments and infidelities. However, once the couple decide to relocate to Paris, their mood lifts somewhat.

But, while the character's moods may lift, the movie's does not. Credit must go to Mendes for creating a palpable sense of unease in the movie. The decision to leap into the maelstrom puts the audience on edge and a pallor falls over the movie. Even when Frank and April appear to be happy, we can't shake the feeling that something is wrong. And this dark mood is the movie's eventual undoing. The vibe of Revolutionary Road is so constantly down and negative that it eventually wears on the viewer. Most viewers will have a sense that something is going to go wrong at some point. But, during the second half of the film, so many things begin to go wrong that it becomes numbing. By the 75-minute mark, we know that something tragic is going to happen to this couple -- it's simply a matter of when and whom. When the tragedy does occur, it should be moving or shocking, but it isn't, as we've been sitting and waiting for it. By forging ahead with dark emotions, dysfunctional characters, and no levity, Mendes has created a black palette which offers no reprieve for the viewer, but no surprises as well.

There's also a question of the character's motivations and how this effects the believability of the film. Again, the movie paints a simple and ignorant portrait that marriage and life in the suburbs equals sadness and disappointment. The movie never goes much farther in exploring the character's feelings. We know that April is a failed actress, but Frank admits to having no dreams, so how can he be disappointed? In the audio commentary, Mendes and Screenwriter Justin Haythe mention that the source novel has many inner monologues. We don't get those here, so we aren't sure from where all of this hatred is coming from. Before the plan to move to Paris, did Frank and April ever try anything else to reconcile their feelings? Given the current climate in America, it's difficult to feel sorry for a couple who have a nice house in the suburbs, where the husband has a good job.

Revolutionary Road is a superbly crafted film and DiCaprio and Winslet certainly hold nothing back with their emotional acting. However, the movie takes its initial ideas and themes and runs too far with them. The first half is interesting and unnerving, but the second half is simply depressing and wearing, like watching a sporting event where the score is 50-0 at halftime.

Revolutionary Road brings us down on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 29 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, but there is some overt grain in some shots (especially those which have a white backdrop). There are no defects from the source material. The level of both depth and detail are very good and the shots of the house on the hill look great. The color palette looks fine and the image is never too dark or bright. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good in crowd scenes and in Frank's office setting, and they reveal very minute details. The music in the nightclub scene sounds great, as it fills the front and rear channels and provides a nice bass line. My immediate thought was, "I feel as if I'm there."

The Revolutionary Road Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extras. We begin with a AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Sam Mendes and Screenwriter Justin Haythe. This is a good commentary, as the two provide scene-specific comments throughout. They discuss the transition from the book to the movie. They also talk about the locations, the actors, and the process of making a period piece. "Lives of Quiet Desperation: The Making of Revolutionary Road" (29 minutes) contains interviews with the director, writer, producer and the cast. The piece takes a detailed and deliberate look at the making of the film, beginning with the process of bringing the novel to life. It then examines the making of the movie, paying attention to the look of the film. "Richard Yates: The Wages of Truth" (26 minutes) is a mini-documentary on the author of the source novel. Through comments from Yates' family, friends, and bioographer, we learn about his life and works. The Disc contains 15 DELETED SCENES which run about 25 minutes and can be viewed with optional commmentary from Mendes and Haythe. Some of these scenes are simply longer versions of scenes from the movie. The most interesting new footage delves deeper into the characters, especially their pasts. We get to see both Frank and April as children, and there's a glimpse at the early part of their marriage. There's also a longer version of one of the film's climactic scenes. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Paramount Home Entertainment has also brought Revolutionary Road to DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is certainly softer than the Blu-ray Disc and not as crisp. The image seems a bit shaky at times and the grain is once again present. There is some artifacting, but the colors look fine. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and again, the nightclub scene is impressive.

The DVD has the same extras as the Blu-ray Disc, save for the Richard Yates biography, which is not included.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long