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Revolutionary Road DVD Review

Revolutionary Road (2008) movie poster Revolutionary Road

Theatrical Release: December 26, 2008 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Sam Mendes / Writers: Justin Haythe (screenplay), Richard Yates (novel)

Cast: Leonard DiCaprio (Frank Wheeler), Kate Winslet (April Wheeler), Kathy Bates (Mrs. Helen Givings), Michael Shannon (John Givings), Kathryn Hahn (Milly Campbell), David Harbour (Shep Campbell), Dylan Baker (Jack Ordway), Richard Easton (Mr. Howard Givings), Zoe Kazan (Maureen Grube), Jay O. Sanders (Bart Pollock), Max Baker (Vince Lathrop), Max Casella (Ed Small)

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The last time Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred in a period drama together, the film won Best Picture and ten other Academy Awards. The last time Sam Mendes directed a film about a suburban family, it won Best Picture and four other Academy Awards. It is no stretch to assume that DreamWorks Pictures and distributor/co-producer Paramount had these feats in mind for Revolutionary Road,
a period drama reuniting Titanic's leads with American Beauty's Sam Mendes in the helm. The film had a limited Christmas week opening, pre-release buzz, and plans to slowly roll out to the rest of the nation. The studios would have been foolish to expect box office returns comparable to those of Leo and Kate's epic previous pairing, but Oscar glory seemed like a reasonable and attainable goal.

Things didn't go as planned. The movie accrued a number of critic circles' nominations and wins, plus a quartet of Golden Globe nods. But the Academy recognized the film in only three categories, none of them worthy of front page news. Kate Winslet finally won her first Oscar, but that was for holocaust drama The Reader. Despite the careful campaigning that foresaw it, her anticipated self-competition and potential double-win never materialized. Without earning the big nominations, attendance fizzled when it would have been taking off. The film ended up grossing just under $23 million domestically, a respectable sum for limited distribution fare, but less than hoped for and less than the reported $35 M production budget.

Reuniting eleven years after their record-setting "Titanic", Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio play April and Frank Wheeler, a married 1950s Connecticut couple living on Revolutionary Road. Decked in period beachwear, Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) discuss developments to their planned transatlantic move.

DiCaprio and Winslet play Frank and April Wheeler, a 1950s married couple growing increasingly discontented with their existence in Connecticut suburbs. April had her acting aspirations dashed amidst unsatisfying community theatre. Unable to figure out his own ambitions, Frank has settled for a meaningless office job for a Manhattan machinery company. To combat their ennui and rekindle the stronger sentiments they had in the past, April comes up with an idea. They'll move to Paris, the one place Frank has deemed worth revisiting, and she'll become the breadwinner for him and their two young children, allowing Frank the freedom to explore and pursue.

Frank's co-workers and the family's closest friends scoff at the plan. The only outsider seeing value in it is John Givings (Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon), the perceptive son of their real estate agent (Kathy Bates) who only spends brief recesses away from his mental institution.

The Wheelers' plan to restart their lives at age 30 faces some complications in the forms of infidelities, an unplanned pregnancy, and a potentially interesting job promotion for Frank.

On break from the mental asylum, John Givings (Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon) makes some frank observations to the unease of his parents (Kathy Bates, Richard Easton). Talk of the Wheelers' planned relocation is met with confused reactions from Frank's smoke-drink-work colleagues (Max Casella, Dylan Baker, Max Baker).

The period setting of Revolutionary Road truly enchants. This isn't the 1950s America we've seen in countless TV shows and movies, but the 1950s as they may have really been. In color. Where men wear hats to work. Where everybody smokes, many swear, and some pursue spontaneous affairs.
Where even in suburbia, among beautiful homes and well-maintained lawns, unrest can thrive.

It's not a novel concept, not even for director Mendes, who won abundant accolades dealing with it in his cinematic debut. But American Beauty was set in the present-day, which a decade later still dates it forty-four years after Revolutionary Road's timeline. This makes all the difference. Rather than simply dole out the kind of "Desperate Housewives" dirty laundry which hardly shocks today, Revolutionary manages to feel ahead of the game, its lack of marital bliss fascinatingly at odds with an era typically reflected upon with glamorr and nostalgia.

Certainly, some credit must go to Richard Yates, who wrote the 1961 novel on which the film is apparently faithfully based. But many an acclaimed book have been treated to lackluster adaptations, especially when the passage of time separates the versions. Revolutionary benefits from a terrific production design, which underscores how far removed we are from 1955 with every shot of home and workplace. It also boasts an evocative score by Thomas Newman, his fourth for Mendes in as many films.

Two kids, two parents, a running sprinkler, a nice house, and a glorious sunset... the Wheelers look like the model of 1950s American family bliss. Discord strikes the Wheelers, as April's frustrated background gestures remain visible while out-of-focus.

The cast deserves acknowledgement as well. Winslet was singled out a bit more than her onscreen husband (and her off-screen husband Mendes, for that matter). She delivers another steady performance, presenting another complex character for study. DiCaprio also keeps the proceedings buoyant, although at times his boyish looks clash with the adult themes and give the feel of "playing grown-up." The entire supporting cast does well with limited opportunities, and Michael Shannon steals the show in his two scenes, providing both levity and an eerie presence.

Ultimately, though, it's Mendes who makes the picture work, his well-paced, well-timed, well-shot presentation offering an engaging romance drama, inviting personal introspection, and delivering a thoughtful consideration of a simpler time no less challenging to the human condition.

Buy Revolutionary Road on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Video Extras Captioned and Subtitled
Release Date: June 2, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


Revolutionary Road's handsome period visuals are easy to appreciate in this vibrant, pleasing 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is very front-oriented and in the absence of a diverse aural arsenal, Newman's characteristically compelling instrumentation becomes the most prominent feature.

A shot of the Wheelers' 1955 living room in "Lives of Quiet Desperation" allows us to admire the first-rate production design of Kristi Zea. Frank and April look out through the picture window of their potential new home in this deleted flashback scene.


Bonus features begin with an audio commentary by director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe. Mendes does most of the talking and gives us a decent mix of information and insight. Among the topics covered are the minor differences from the text, why the kids are so sparsely seen, and casting actors from the New York stage. Often, Mendes and Haythe simply share their personal opinions on characters, motivations, and scenes, decoding meaning hidden in the frame.
There's even a tiny Titanic nod pointed out. On the whole, the track is kind of dull. If you have the time and interest, this is an adequate listen, but it's not worth going out of your way to hear.

Next up is the 29-minute featurette "Lives of Quiet Desperation: The Making of Revolutionary Road", which employs a fine palette of production stills, key cast and crew interviews, film clips, and B-roll footage. The first third recalls the project's origins and how the makers assembled. The core of the piece details aspects of production, like finding and creating the places and props to set period scenes on this all-location shoot. The last few minutes ponder the film's themes and messages. This nice companion to the film is easily the disc's best extra.

The supplemental slate closes with five deleted scenes (9:48), which offer optional commentary by Mendes and Haythe. Seen here: a somewhat heavy-handed morning-after apology, another night with next-day neighbor couple the Campbells (David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn), Frank's train ride-prompted childhood flashback, April's revealing house showing flashback, and a curious climactic moment in which Frank hides and weeps in his home.

Finally, "Previews" gives us full trailers for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance, and There Will Be Blood, the same which play automatically at disc insertion. Revolutionary's own trailer is unfortunately not included.

The static menus opt for the simplicity of the poster and cover art. A piano score excerpt accompanies the main menu only. Nothing but the disc is found inside the case.

Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) is happy to have a quiet moment away from the hatted, suited hordes making their way around Grand Central. April (Kate Winslet) wears a contemplative expression as she looks down her suburban street.


Revolutionary Road may not have enjoyed all the award season glory it seemed destined for, but it still succeeds as an intriguing, well-crafted drama about unfulfilling married life in the oft-idealized world of 1950s suburban America. The film merits a look and the DVD satisfies enough to merit a recommendation.

More on the DVD / Buy Revolutionary Road from Amazon.com:
DVD / Blu-ray / The Book by Richard Yates

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Sam Mendes: Away We Go
New to DVD: He's Just Not That Into You • Army Wives: The Complete Second Season • Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season
2008 Oscar Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button • Doubt • WALL•E • Tropic Thunder
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio: Body of Lies | Starring Kate Winslet: Finding Neverland
Desperate Housewives: The Complete Fourth Season • Brideshead Revisited • Fireproof • Happy Days: The Third Season
See the Supporting Players of Revolutionary Road in:
Kathy Bates: Misery • Fred Claus • Chιri | Kathryn Hahn: Step Brothers • The Last Mimzy | Zoe Kazan: In the Valley of Elah
Dylan Baker: Across the Universe | Jay O. Sanders: Wedding Daze • The Big Green | Max Casella: Newsies

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Reviewed June 9, 2009.

Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 DreamWorks Pictures, Paramount Vantage, BBC Films,
and 2009 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.