Very recently (today, in fact) a literary enthusiast friend of mine asked me whether I had read the work of Richard Yates. Even the quick utterance of that luminary American novelist put me into a state of inertia. I’ve only read three of Yates’ main works – novel debut Revolutionary Road, The Easter Parade, and short story collection Eleven Kinds of Loneliness – yet they all hit me like a punch to the gut, looking at the pitfalls of parenthood, provincial living and the ill-fated American Dream ideal. Each work is undeniably fantastic, but his debut Revolutionary Road is the one that still strikes a nerve every time I reconsider the tormented lives of it’s (anti) hero and heroine, the quietly exasperated Frank and his stubborn, matriarchal wife April.
Following the gritty war drama Jarhead and father-and-son film noir Road to Perdition, English stage director turned Hollywood mainstay Sam Mendes tackled Yates’ opaque, fifties period piece to the big screen. The 2008 film was unwaveringly faithful to the source material and, in a word, incredible. Not only was Mendes able to reignite the palpable on-screen chemistry of Titanic darlings Leonardo DiCaprio and his then-wife Kate Winslet, he enlisted visionary DP Roger Deakins (whom is recently picking up many plaudits for his work on Mendes’ Skyfall). All that, plus Thomas Newman’s rousing score (again, also on the Skyfall crew), and the Oscar nominated costumes of Albert Wolsky and art direction from Kristi Zea and Debra Schutt.
Whilst the film may not have reached the same sort of acclaim as the incredibly overrated American Beauty, it is still my most cherished Sam Mendes picture. I first saw it around the time I was immersing myself with Mad Men, and they mercurially mirror each other. While ABC’s cult TV series portrays the debauched days of Big Apple ad-execs, Revolutionary Road depicts the sober, suburban homes these men return to. Behind the picket-fence and freshly mowed grass is a family home built on loneliness, unspoken truths and disconnect. Everyone knows that these grievances exist, but people are too scared to change it. As Winslet’s April brutally tells her husband, ‘No one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying.’
Feast your hungry eyes on the brilliant trailer below, then be sure to pick up both the book and film. They really are modern masterpieces.