Look, I know that affluence doesn't equal happiness, and that a committed relationship between two people is one of the most difficult things that all of us will encounter, but with Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes' sole objective is to show how marriage came to birth that old cliche of "the ol' ball and chain". What's curious is that Mendes actually thought, by simply hiring a talented cast & crew, that he could somehow transform that remedial vision of his into a profound work of art. Shoot, all you need to do is watch the ridiculous trailer for Revolutionary Road, and you've seen the full-length film itself. Granted, it isn't as insulting and juvenile as Mendes' collaboration with Alan Ball in American Beauty (and thanks to the photography of Roger Deakins there are even a few moments of visual clarity), but, in the end, as with every Mendes film to date, Revolutionary Road is just as inconsequential.
The silliest spectacle in Revolutionary Road is the character of John Givings, played by Michael Shannon. John is the voice of reason. He's been through thirty electro-shock treatments, doesn't know how to brush his teeth, and is borderline insane, yet he can see the truth that the sane married couples of Connecticut cannot. He sees the "hopelessness and emptiness". In fact, that revelation is how Frank and April end up bonding with John. During a stroll through the woods, an automatically skeptical John sees fireworks when Frank admits that he and April are moving to Paris because they can't stand the emptiness of their 9-to-5 American lives anymore. "Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness", says John. What rot.
The role of John Givings is an unfortunate one for Michael Shannon. The talented actor was outstanding when he played an actual human being in last year's Shotgun Stories, but it appears Shannon took Kirk Lazurus' "looking retarded, acting retarded, but not being retarded" advice and scored himself a Best Supporting Actor nominee. Yep, he sure did. Because, you see, John Givings isn't your regular retard, he's a clairvoyant retard. In a scene that probably got the Academy idiots all wet, John calls Frank out for accepting a promotion with his company and then accuses him of getting April pregnant on purpose so it would be easier to convince her that they need to stay in Connecticut.
Kate Winslet's portrayal of April is a chore as well. It's telling when you watch her scenes opposite DiCaprio, specifically the most emotionally charged ones. DiCaprio (along with Kathy Bates, the only actor that delivers in Revolutionary Road) sweats real feeling, while Winslet emotes in the way that actors are trained to. It's a grand bore. You can see DiCaprio working, grinding through decisions and instincts in his head, while Winslet just refers back to that "how to" reference guide in her brain. Add to that the fact that April is one of the most despicable female characters to hit screens since Margot in Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding. She resents her children, mocks her husband's hard work, and fakes effort only when there is something that she craves (ie moving to Paris). Astoundingly, Mendes gives this worthless woman a spiritual send-off by shooting her, in blood-spotted skirt, before an open floor length window in a phony transcendental moment as if she's come to a beautiful decision of self-sacrifice.
But Sam Mendes saves his snarkiest moment for Revolutionary Road's final scene. We are in the home of Helen and Howard Givings (parents of John). Helen is the local real estate agent, and she's going on-and-on to her husband about the new tenants that moved into Frank and April's old house. Helen thinks they represent an ideal that she's always envisioned for her community. The camera then slowly pans to Howard. He's sitting opposite Helen in a comfy chair, looking in her direction, appearing as if he's interested. Calmly, and without a change in expression, Howard moves his hand up and turns the volume of his hearing aid down to zero. Silence. Dead sound, dead face. Cut to black. The message: marriage is prison. Yawn. Revolutionary Road is like a "ball and chain" around your brain.