New to DVD, ‘Revolutionary Road’ may yet be discovered for the masterpiece it is

Posted by · 10:50 am · May 22nd, 2009

(from left) Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary RoadWhen “The Wizard of Oz” was released in 1939, neither audiences or critics were particularly fond of the film and it died a rather quick death at the box office. When “Citizen Kane” was first released in theatres in 1941, audiences did not warm to it, and despite winning the New York Film Critics Circle award for best film, and nine Academy Award nominations, it too died a fast death.

In 1956, John Ford’s magnificent western “The Searchers” was not nominated for a single Academy Award, and though well liked at the time, no one seemed to think it was the work of art it is considered to be today. Even Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” did not find an audience when first released, and though the film had many strong reviews, no one thought iof it on the level they do today.

It happens all the time.  Great films get ignored by both audiences and film critics. And though it would be an obvious stretch to consider Sam Mendes’s “Revolutionary Road” in the above company, it is nevertheless a perfect recent example.

True enough, some critics (myself included) admired “Revolutionary Road” when it was released, but there were simply not enough of us to get the word out. Not even the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winlet could help the film pull in audiences. Incredibly, the Hollywood Foriegn Press Association (their choices sometimes dubious at best) nominated the film for several awards and Kate Winslet rightfully won Best Actress in a Drama for her performance in the film. A couple of weeks later, collective jaws hit the floor when she was nominated for a leading actress Oscar, but for “The Reader,” a lesser performance and film.

Earlier this week I received my DVD of the film, which hits shelves on June 2, and so I sat down at once to watch it again.  I made my way through the features, wanting to learn more and more about this astonishing film.  And it is my sincere hope that “Revolutionary Road” will some day come to be recognized for the sublime work of art it truly is.

It is not an easy film to watch, of course.  There are demands made on the audience and the journey of the characters is not a particularly light-hearted one. But we know people like this, some of us no doubt have been these people at one point or another in our lives, and that is what makes the film so remarkable to me…it captures life to utter perfection.  The emotions are raw, the film is full of anger and rage, regret and lost hope. There are dashed dreams here that make an extraordinary impact on the lives of all the characters, and when tragedy occurs, it is like a kick to the stomach.

Mendes had an incredible debut with “American Beauty” in 1999, though he had been something of a legend in the theater for several years. After a succesful premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, “Beauty” became the hottest film of the fall, and come Oscar time, the picture was nominated for eight trophies and won five including a near sweep of top honors.

The director followed that with the exceptional gangster drama “Road to Perdition,” which I thought was among the five best films of the year, containing an exceptional performance from Tom Hanks, cast against type as an Irish mafia hitman.  The Academy liked the film, to the tune of six nominations, and it won for the late Conrad L. Hall’s superb cinematography, but nothing else.

“Jarhead,” Mendes’s take on US involvement in the Middle East, certainly had its moments, and it is visually superb.  But it never seemed to have a cohesive storylin, never allowed us to get close to the characters.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been growing steadily as an actor these last few years, after giving an amazing performance in “What’s Easting Gilbert Grape?” and then becoming a superstar in “Titanic.”  The last few years working with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, hehas become the finest young actor at work. He reminds me of a young Brando, with the innate ability to make every line coming out of his mouth sound like he was saying it for the very first time. There is an exciting, uncanny realism to his work.  He was outstanding in “Catch Me If You Can” and even better as Howard Hughes in “The Aviator.”  Oddly, he was nominated for his fine work in “Blood Diamond” rather than his better work in “The Departed” for Scorsese in 2006.

Winslet, meanwhile, is working hard to be the next great actress of her generation, and frankly seems to be there. From “Sense and Sensibility” to “Titanic” up to her best work, before “Road,” in Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” she continues to amaze.

Though I have not yet seen “Away We Go,” I consider “Revolutionary Road” to be the best film Mendes has made, and I include “American Beauty,” which I suspect many people are wondering aloud how it won all those Oscars.  His direction is perfect.  He brilliantly explores a marriage in trouble at a time when divorce was a rarity.  There are superb supporting performances from Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon (eerie), but the film belongs to the two leads. There is genuine pain in their performances.

I loved the film in December, I mourned the fact that the Academy blew it by ignoring it, and I hope it will be discovered in years to come.  But as for the here and now, I’m happy to know it is a masterpiece.

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41 responses so far

  • 1 5-22-2009 at 10:52 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’m still collecting my thoughts on “Away We Go,” which I saw weeks ago. Some have said they think it’s Mendes’s best, but I wasn’t as impressed. I want to see it again before I offer a review, though. It’s completely outside his wheelhouse.

    As for Rev Road, you know I’m with you. One of the best films of last year.

  • 2 5-22-2009 at 10:55 am

    William Goss said...

    I was pushed away by Rev Road and surprisingly taken with Away We Go, though I’ll still give both a second look.

  • 3 5-22-2009 at 11:28 am

    Speaking English said...

    I just… can’t agree. For me it was one of the most underwhelming films of last year, and I walked out of that theater completely apathetic. Of course I admired the performances and found much to love in the very authentic production design, but to me the whole thing just felt very empty.

    And I much prefer Winslet in “The Reader,” to disagree with you again, as well as the film itself. Although I do think she should have been nominated for both, forgetting the Academy’s stupid rule.

  • 4 5-22-2009 at 11:42 am

    JAB said...

    This was one of those films that just didn’t have all the pieces for me, the great acting was there, the great cinematography was there, and the costumes & art direction were also notable. It was just so damn depressing, and there were probably four different points when it could (and should) have ended, but it just kept going.

  • 5 5-22-2009 at 11:49 am

    red_wine said...

    I thought the movie was really dated and kinda purposeless. It wasn’t made because the director really wanted to tell a story, but because he was looking for a suitable next project and picked up a literary classic.

    The only reason for the existence of this movie, was to win Oscars(very much like The Reader). It just screamed Oscar right from the beginning. Oscar winning director, Oscar nominated actors, literary adaptation, period piece, serious drama about a bright young couple who war and destroy their marriage. I’m sure even while signing the film’s contract, all the people had Oscar at the back of their mind. The studio green-lit because they had Oscar at the back of their mind. Even the making of this film must have been such a pretentious exercise,they must have been very self-conscious, ‘we are making a serious adult drama’.

    In the end it would have to be considered unsuccessful because it did not manage to do the single thing it set out to do, get Oscar nominations inspite of the massive campaign launched by the studio so insistent it was akin to begging.

    The film decidedly falls into the middle-brow category. Too self-patting to be taken as a serious dissection of anything. Still a nice film & I really admired Kate Winslet, a much better performance than The Reader. DiCaprio was more hit and miss and didn’t come out at an advantage in front of Winslet.

  • 6 5-22-2009 at 11:54 am

    adelutza said...

    I completely agree. Some of the scenes in the film were so painful that I actually felt physical pain. A big snub by the Academy in favor of a film at best mediocre ( and I mean here Frost/Nixon)

  • 7 5-22-2009 at 11:55 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’ll leave it to cooler heads to refute red_wine’s hot air.

  • 8 5-22-2009 at 11:56 am

    Mr. Milich said...

    This movie was terrible. It came about as close to being a complete failure as I could imagine.

    In Adventures in the Screen Trade, Goldman lays out three types of movies (I’m paraphrasing):

    1) Movies that are meant to be good and succeed.
    2) Movies that are meant to be good and fail.
    3) Movies that aren’t meant to be good in the first place.

    Revolutionary Road belongs very comfortably at #2.

  • 9 5-22-2009 at 11:58 am

    BerkeleyGirl said...

    I love this movie – almost as much as the book. Though I’ve been more of a Mendes admirer than lover, I appreciate his faith in Yates with this film. Sure, it’s a downer, but it’s also a scathing critique on the birth of suburban America.

    Winslet blew me away. (Exhibit 1: dancing in the roadhouse) She lifted di Caprio to new heights. As the movie wore on, I couldn’t help but think their close friendship gave them safety to go to very scary places. The supporting cast is equally fine. Yes, Bates and Shannon, but I’d also add Richard Easton.

  • 10 5-22-2009 at 12:02 pm

    head_wizard said...

    Bravo for pointing out Winslet’s true great performance. the movie itself had its flaws but Winslet was a joy and pleasure to watchher best performance and the best female performance of last year!

  • 11 5-22-2009 at 12:07 pm

    Adam M. said...

    Ugh. This again? Really?!

    This movie was a disaster. It had all the makings of a masterpiece but was founded on one of the worst scripts of the year and was far too overstated for its own good.

    But seriously. That script! Eh-gads! I’m surprised that the movie could even be as good as it was with all of the horribly embarrassing dialogue and sloppy narrative structure.

  • 12 5-22-2009 at 12:11 pm

    trent said...

    It was/is a brilliant movie.

  • 13 5-22-2009 at 12:16 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I thought it a brave and stylish attempt to film a very internalised novel, though I found it a little too literal in some areas. I’d be very surprised if it emerges as an agreed-upon classic, but I can also imagine it rewarding the effort of further viewings.

    Finally, as strong as Winslet’s performance is, DiCaprio owned the picture for me. Stunning work.

  • 14 5-22-2009 at 12:27 pm

    MattyD. said...

    Revolutionary Road was my favorite film from last year. So underappreciated and disappointingly so. The wounds are still bleeding from seeing the Oscar noms that morning…

  • 15 5-22-2009 at 12:31 pm

    Michael W. said...

    Absolutely one of the best pictures of 2008. It has it’s flaws. Especially I think the ending is a little bit off in the structure but overall it’s criminally underrated.

    Mendes really is an amazing filmmaker. I didn’t care much for Jarhead though and Away We Go doesn’t really excite me but I think Road to Perdition is a bona fide masterpiece. Even better than American Beauty.

    By the way Mendes gave me a chuckle in the 20th anniversary edition of Empire magazine when asked if he would go 3D he answered that he had already done that. It’s called the theatre :-D

  • 16 5-22-2009 at 12:34 pm

    Jeff said...

    I have to say Rev. Road was my favorite movie of 2008, only movies that were close to me were Milk, The Wrestler, and Synecdoche New York. As far as Mendes goes, American Beauty is in my all time Top 5 and am awaiting the release of Away We Go, but as of now Rev. Road is Mendes’s second best film to date.

  • 17 5-22-2009 at 12:38 pm

    Marshall said...

    I saw “Away We Go” a little more than a month ago, and I did like it, but “Revolutionary Road” and “American Beauty” are better movies in my mind. “Away We Go” feels like a fresh rehash of some recent quirky comedies. Take the screw-up-iness and road trip of “Little Miss Sunshine,” add the joys of pregnancy of “Juno,” sprinkle maybe a bit of Christopher Guest, you get “Away We Go.” It is completely different than anything we have ever seen Mendes do; I would never have guessed that he directed this had I not known. But talk about a complete about-face on relationships.

  • 18 5-22-2009 at 12:38 pm

    Cory Rivard said...

    This was in my top 5 last year. Viewing this film kept me on the verge of breaking up with my girlfriend for two straight weeks. It truly terrified me and made me reconsider my entire life. I don’t think she is going to let me watch it again. A true to life suburban horror.

  • 19 5-22-2009 at 1:14 pm

    Mike_M said...

    This film has certainly stayed with me since I watched it last Dec. I would have been much happier if this (or even Doubt) got a best pic nom over The Reader (just picking 2 films that generally considered in the running before they were released) which had no lasting impression on my at all.

    Of course the acting was great as was art direction and there is no way you can forget the amazing cinematography, but I felt when it came to the writing , mainly the arguments in the movie where too spot on and had the perfect dialogue being said to each other. It didn’t feel real enough to me, it was slightly too perfect, so that brought it down a notch. I should revisit this movie because I was about 1 month into my marriage so not sure if my view was skewed slightly (not saying Iam/was having the problems they had, but it made me think about my the new phase in my life slightly differently and made me hope I would never be in the state there were in towards the end of their marriage).

  • 20 5-22-2009 at 1:15 pm

    John H. Foote said...

    Red Wine — wow are you jaded — what has happened to you in your life to make you so angry? — “purposeless” and “dated” — dated? man I don’t remember many fifties films dealing openly with marital issues like this and openly exploring self abortion — purposeless? — come on man, “Mall Cop” is purposeless, as is “Daddy Day Care 2” but not this film — do you honestly believe the prople involved in this film had Oscars on their brain? What a foolish statement — they likely wanted to work with one another because working with great artists tends to bring out the better in the artist — Mendes has his Oscar, and believe me the actors (true actors) do not put an Academy Award at the top of their wants list, they want good work and excellent roles, which this film offered — I do concede the studios had Oscars dancing in their head, Oscars mean money — watch it again man, see what you are missing and fall into this extraordinary tragedy — a searing study of a marriage gone wrong and how two people lose themselves by not talking to the other — a masterpiece…again I say it —

  • 21 5-22-2009 at 1:45 pm

    Mr. Milich said...

    John, this movie is not a masterpiece. It’s not.

    If any movie this decade is going to have people in the future claiming it was robbed, that movie is There Will Be Blood. Personally, I think No Country For Old Men was better, and the Academy made one of it’s rare ballsy moves. But there are people out there who are absolutely zealous about Blood in the way that some were with Scorsese 20 years ago.

    Revolutionary Road will maintain the same brushed-aside status it currently holds. Because there’s nothing revolutionary about it to achieve any other end.

  • 22 5-22-2009 at 2:05 pm

    red_wine said...

    Gosh that did sound angry, but of course I did not mean too.

    I think its a nice film and its great if you like it John but today its rather difficult for a film to be a buried classic. Today, home video & the ability to talk to a huge no. of people has assured that there is too much time & opportunity to re-view and re-access a movie. So its unlikely any movie will emerge as a hidden classic including Rev Road. A film certainly might be under-seen by a large population, but definitely not under-appreciated by people in the know.(case in point Wendy & Lucy)

    And don’t worry if your film found disfavor with the academy, they passed into the realm of ridiculousness last year. But I still think its unlikely that the film will be regarded as a masterpiece years later.

  • 23 5-22-2009 at 2:10 pm

    Tom said...

    I was a fan Revolutionary Road and it even made the bottom of my top 10. That is not saying much though because 2008 was a fairly weak year. Leo should have been nominated instead of certain overrated showy performances. However, I feel like there was something wrong with this movie. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but very little in this film stuck with me after viewing it.

    I do wish more people would have seen the movie, but when I saw The Reader I was excited it was nominated for a bunch of the major awards. That was a film that actually stuck with me and made me think.

    Reasonable people can view the same movie in completely different ways. I just want to say that I agree it is a good movie that more people should see, but in my opinion to say it is a masterpiece is a major stretch.

  • 24 5-22-2009 at 2:49 pm

    John H. Foote said...

    Red Wine — appreciate the response and yep I disagree with you and several others — as far DVD making it impossible (or dificult) for a film to be a buried classic, consider “Shoot the Moon”, “Under Fire”, ‘Once Upon a Time in America”, ‘The Stunt Man”, “Reds”, “Blow Out”, ‘Atlantic City”, “The Right Stuff”, “The Apostle” — seen them all? They are all on DVD and all buried classics — has every person the visits this site seen those films? If not put them on your list because they are , even in this day and age of DVD mania, under appreciated classics.

  • 25 5-22-2009 at 2:56 pm

    McGuff said...

    I fought tooth and nail with myself last year to make a decision on whether or not “Revolutionary Road” or “WALL-E” was my favorite movie of 2008 — instead, I let it sit as a tie, two radically different movies that taught me something about the potential of acting and animation, respectively.

    I certainly disagree with those that didn’t like Haythe’s script — if you understand the undertaking of adapting this novel, I don’t think you can really tear apart his narrative structure. I actually loved the structure — using Michael Shannon as a bridge between the first and second act, and then between the second and third was seamless and really highlighted Shannon’s fantastic work.

    But, more than anything else, I’ve pointed friends to the breakfast scene near the end of the movie — it’s two great actors at the absolute top of their games. Each character has extremely different motives and emotions during the scene, but DiCaprio and Winslet find the perfect way to meld it together … we know where it’s going, but they almost have us believing the tragedy is salvageable. The scene of the year, for me.

    Can’t wait to add it to my DVD collection. Thanks for the post, John.

  • 26 5-22-2009 at 3:08 pm

    JC said...

    I didn’t mind the film, but it wouldn’t rank in my Top 15 or so of the 40+ I saw in 2008. And when I was watching Michael Shannon’s performance, it occurred to me that Heath Ledger’s work in The Dark Knight was actually only the fourth most over-the-top performance amongst those nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2008. Shannon chews the scenery like there’s no tomorrow, Hoffman was given to constant yelling fits, and Downey…well, you know.

    They almost could have taken Shannon’s character to a visually metaphorical level, as a little bird that flies in the window and offers constant updates on Leo and Kate’s relationship at opportune times.

    I still think that Mendes is dealing too heavily in caricature when it comes to the neighbours, and other supporting characters, in the film and, overall, it still feels like a second-tier take on what TV’s Mad Men does quite well every week.

  • 27 5-22-2009 at 3:29 pm

    red_wine said...

    John, Reds, Atlantic City & The Right Stuff were nominated for Best Picture, I wouldn’t call them under-appreciated. While Once Upon A Time In America is 1 of the most popular cult movies around, its top 100 on IMDB.

    And I was exactly referring to people like you, those in the know. I’ve only seen 2 or 3 of those movies as I’m sure have people who visit this site, but I’ve certainly heard of all them. And many of us are young so still have a lot of movie watching to do and those of us who are really interested, are aware of great films and will watch as many as possible as time & resources permit.

    But actually I wasn’t referring to classics at all, I was referring to toady’s age. Today with a 100 million critics online with 100 different critics polls and a billion people discussing movies & access to movie very well improved with dvds, you sort of always arrive at a consensus these days, sometimes fractured, sometimes unanimous, so yep, if you have merit, its pretty much impossible to go unnoticed.

    Take Death of Mr. Lazarescu (I am yet to see it!), an obscure low budget Romanian film that is 1 of the most celebrated films & 1 of the best films according to critics this decade. Most people haven’t even heard about it, but those people will be most likely watching T4 now. Compared to that Rev Road is very much in the public eye.

    Actually internet & DVDs have seriously skewed which films last & which films don’t. Citizen Kane & Vertigo lasted by virtue of their merit but these days, modern films last due to sheer availability. So surely 10 years down the line, every single film made today(even Bride Wars) would surely be around, including Rev Road, just that it wont be fondly remembered as 1 of the great achievements of cinema.

    (Actually it almost seems useless to have greatest films lists & critics polls these days, they seem little more than academic exercises. I follow them religiously to avoid watching thrash or avoid missing out on great movies, but most people don’t care. Today people have their opinion, own circle of people to discuss things & watch what they want & what they enjoy(nothing greatly wrong with that). Its only left for us few to ponder which films were great & which were not).

  • 28 5-22-2009 at 3:50 pm

    JC said...

    I don’t know…Bride Wars may yet be discovered for the masterpiece that it is. ;)

  • 29 5-22-2009 at 4:21 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    red_wine, if its sole raison d’etre was to win Oscars, why did it have none of the pat emotional beats of typically shallow Awards bait? You’re talking about shit like THE GREAT DEBATERS or AUSTRALIA. This film is far too bleak and challenging and entirely undeserving of that criticism.

  • 30 5-22-2009 at 4:47 pm

    John H. Foote said...

    Red Wine — they were indeed nominated for best picture but how many people outside of the Academy have actually seen the films? By under appreciated I suppose I mean speaking with people who are film folks but have never seen those films — I run into a lot of people wqho have not seen films previous to the year they were born — “Reds” is more than twenty five years old, a masterpiece but so few people have seen it or in some cases even know of it — so yep, I stand by it, they are under appreciated.

  • 31 5-22-2009 at 5:08 pm

    Chris said...

    Revolutionary Road is one of those movies I could only watch once. It was very good, but one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen. I can’t imagine myself wanting to watch it again.

  • 32 5-22-2009 at 5:13 pm

    red_wine said...

    Then even 8 1/2 is under appreciated(and by god you cannot be more worshiped than that film). Its woefully sad but John the audience for classic movies is mainly restricted to critics, film school grads & some serious film lovers. Thats it, classic movies are rarely gonna cross over from that section. Within this section, Reds is justly famous and appreciated. Exceptions are there but the bulk of classics will always remain under-seen by 90% of the population. Synecdoche will never ever be widely seen or be popular.

    In fact we can almost take it as a sign of quality today if a film is not popular like crazy. It usually means it is intellectually demanding.

  • 33 5-22-2009 at 6:52 pm

    Alex said...

    Is it just me or does Away We Go look like it’s from the people who brought us all those Apple commercials.

  • 34 5-23-2009 at 12:22 am

    Nauval Y. said...

    It would have been one perfect film if only the script allowed (spoiler alert!) some background of Frank Wheeler’s character. He lives his life the way he knows how, based on what he has observed from his father. This is the only thing missing from the film, which is told superbly in the novel, that I wish the film would have featured.

    As for Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance, well, I’ve never been a fan of his work. Until ‘Revolutionary Road’ changes my perspective of this fine young man. The birthday scene is, gosh, how did he pull it off?!

  • 35 5-23-2009 at 6:28 am

    Mona Mozano said...

    Rev. Rd. ripped my soul out and stomped on it…but in a good way.

  • 36 5-23-2009 at 7:03 am

    Louis said...

    I adore the film, but I do agree with JC that Michael Shannon overdoes it. I saw a subtlety in his character in the book that didn’t come through in the film. He (and Mendes) almost seemed to be going for cheap laughs, and a really in-your-face attempt to demonstrate just how CRAZY this guy is (I guess they really wanted to emphasize the irony of the crazy one being the most culturally insightful). I’ve always seen the character of John Givings as verbally uninhibited and mentally disturbed…but nonetheless capable of conducting conversation without his CRAZINESS shining through so brightly. Because in the end, I’m not so sure that he’s any crazier than the characters who are not forced to conduct their lives within the walls of an institution.

    That said, I thought the rest of the actors were brilliant. All the more sad that my least favorite performance was the only one singled out by the Academy.

  • 37 5-23-2009 at 9:03 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Revolutionary Road was a tough watch. American Beauty is still his best work in my opinion.

  • 38 5-23-2009 at 12:14 pm

    Helena said...

    Hard to watch , but equally hard to forget.

    Agree with sentiments regarding breakfast scene. One of my favorites as well

  • 39 5-23-2009 at 12:21 pm

    Peanut said...


    What were your thoughts about the deleted scene on the dvd that matched the ending scene in the book where Frank returns home and finds April’s note ?


  • 40 5-23-2009 at 7:39 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    The film condescended to its characters, as did the novel. It looked nice, though.

  • 41 5-27-2009 at 8:46 pm

    austin k. said...

    The novel tore my heart out. I found it hard to read even though it was also rather darkly humorous. The film too had this humor, not very obvious to some, but there none-the-less. The Wheelers were quintessential dreamers but without true wit. I agree with Sam Mendes who said on the commentary of the DVD that DiCaprio had won his undying respect for being able to pull off such a compelling combo of anger and guilt in one scene. Winslet was able to telegraph every thought beautifully. I hope these two fabulous talents get to work together again — only make it a real laugh out loud comedy next time.