Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pretense-olutionary Road

A few thoughts after seeing the latest Sam Mendes opus Revolutionary Road -- which I wanted to like far more than I actually did.  My wife and I went to the movie fully expecting to see a hot-blooded portrait of marital discord -- a vintage melodrama.  What we got instead was a cold, distant, picture that feels like a Douglas Sirk film stripped of all its immediacy and visceral power.  Revolutionary Road is an interesting movie.  It has two knockout performances by Leo and Kate (how she manages to sell all of her dialogue so convincingly is a mystery) but the movie suffers from acute formality and stylistic contrivance.  

Sam Mendes seems like a nice guy and he deserves credit for the scope of his ambitions, but we've been down this road before with him.  American Beauty is a movie designed to wrench every possible drop of irony and emotional resonance out of each character, each moment, but the movie succumbs to artiness and artifice.  The characters are etched in broad stereotypes.  The themes are broadcast transparently as if from a megaphone in bold technicolor -- just in case we, the audience, don't get it.  Road To Perdition?  I call it Road To Pretention.  

Revolutionary Road is afflicted with the same theatrical malady.  Everything from the production design down to the costumes is impeccably detailed, but the film unfolds like a relentless series of tableaus.  We are watching a representation of real emotions.  We are watching a representation of history, but we never feel we are in it.  We are always aware we are watching a movie.  Some of these images have a lasting impact.  DiCaprio's performance is haunting and so is Winslet's, but the movie doesn't feel lived in.  It doesn't feel organic.  Watching it is something like watching a puppet show, but focussing on the strings instead of the characters.