Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes, US/ UK 2008

I recently watched Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road for the first time, having been quite reluctant to watch it all, since I'm such an admirer of Yates' book. And, perhaps inevitably, I've come to the conclusion that the problem with Mendes’ film is not that it is a bad one, but rather that it is ultimately inferior to the book it is based on. Although literature and film are two different entities and should be treated as such, even if one is based on the other, Yates’ book is so ‘alive’, so filmic, so rich in images - with, paradoxically very little action - that one’s imagination is switched on to the hilt while reading it. And needless to say, one’s own images hardly ever match those of the finished film and as a result, watching the film can only be a disappointment. Another glitch Mendes had to face was the fact that the book is full of inner thought, monologue and dialogue - something that is very tricky to translate into the language of film. Hence, considering the richness of the book’s, shall we say, ‘non-verbal action’, using a voice-over narrator would have solved that problem elegantly.

Regarding the plot itself, there is, what I think, a very significant omission, and that’s the childhood and upbringing of both, April and Frank Wheeler. It is important for the viewer to have this background information as this explains, for instance, why Frank is so easily dissuaded from their plan of moving to Paris as Yates illustrates so plausibly in his book how man has a tendency to -subconsciously - replicate the lives of their parents. April, on the other hand, having been raised by relatives, with her father mostly absent and a mother who succumbed to alcoholism, has had an entirely different upbringing from Frank’s. And this may make it so difficult for her to lead the kind of suburban conventionality that Frank appears to be contented with - for their childhoods are almost at opposites ends from each other. Thus April, like so many women whose father was mostly absent - Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Romy Schneider, to name only some of the most famous examples - aspires to become an actress: a shattered dream, to be replaced by another, almost equally ambitious one: the dream of moving to Paris (without having a job or speaking French!).

So much for the differences between the book and the film. Looking at the film itself and pretending not to know the book - which is literally impossible as the images from Yates’ book are still so vividly present in my mind - it must be repeated that Revolutionary Road is certainly not a bad film, even though my review may make it sound like one, and, perhaps, as careful an adaptation of the novel as possible. Kate Winslet as April is superb, infinitely superior to DiCaprio, and, to me, most definitely the film’s highlight. She carries the film. The film’s production values - camera, lighting, costumes - are unobtrusively appropriate, however, Thomas Newman’s music isn’t. His score is boring and uninventive and it’s a shame that in spite of the film’s promising trailer - which used Nina Simone’s hauntingly beautiful Wild is the Wind - Newman didn’t manage to come up with something more inspiring, something that may have, if not furthered, at least matched, the plot better than the trivial music he composed for Mendes’ film. It’s a far cry from his masterful score for American Beauty. Music in a film - its score - should either be used in a way that you don’t notice it at all, or, if you do, it has to underscore the narrative. In this instance, the music is there all the time, yet it its function is unclear as it seems like a separate entity that was written for another film or, perhaps, not even any film at all.

Revolutionary Road is now out on DVD.