books to film

Book versus movie: ‘Revolutionary Road’ is a sumptuous watch but a better read

Richard Yates’s novel is a bitter portrait of mid-1950s America. The couple in Sam Mendes’s film could be from any time period.

Whether mad, sad or bad, dad stories make good films when entrusted to Sam Mendes.

Mendes’s multiple-award winning American Beauty (1999) stars Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham who is 42, frustrated, and besotted with his daughter’s teenage friend. Max Allan Collins’s graphic novel Road to Perdition (2002), adapted for the screen and feted for its cinematography, shows gangster fathers John Rooney (Paul Newman) and Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) each struggling to protect a son.

In Mendes’s 2008 adaptation of Richard Yates’s posthumously acknowledged masterpiece Revolutionary Road, Earl Wheeler, the late, nondescript father of Frank (outstandingly played by Leonardo DiCaprio), still has a hold over his son. Earl had once been a salesman at Knox, the same company where Frank, pushing 30, now holds an executive position. Swamped in middle-class inertia, cursing the dullness of his days, Frank nevertheless feels he is paying “fine tribute” to his father by working in the same company.

When he had been a longshoreman in New York, Frank had fallen in love and married April Johnson (the irreplaceable Kate Winslet). She is “a first rate girl” who refuses to live a second rate life. A drama student when they first met at a party, April is now a failed actress and the mother of Frank’s two children. She believes that Connecticut suburban living has trapped her in mediocrity and that she, like Frank, deserves better things. If they acknowledge their current stagnation and take a chance and move to Paris, where she knows Frank had been his happiest, he would be the apotheosis of the manhood she had once loved. In Paris, “or anywhere but here,” April feels they will validate their birthright to be “special.” In short, that their lives will be what novelist Richard Ford terms “blissfully rudderless”.

Play
Revolutionary Road (2008).

Apparently, all it needs is “backbone” to turn pipe dreams into reality. The collision of April’s narcissistic delusions against Frank’s stodgy pragmatism makes them drag each other down a devastating cul de sac. Yates’s nuanced turn of phrase paints a bitter portrait of an era (the mid-1950s known as America’s Age of Anxiety), a community and a marriage, but Mendes’s film focuses more on the quarter life crisis of the Wheelers who could be any couple at any period of time.

Whether lovers on a sinking ship (Titanic) or spouses in a sinking marriage, DiCaprio and Winslet make an incandescent screen pair. As Frank Wheeler spatting at home with his wife, DiCaprio agitates his boyish features to coalesce in ugly acrimony. But at office, his muscles relax, he smiles and wows his wide-eyed young secretary into an affair.

Though not quite as neurotic as Yates would have her, April’s “enigmatic aloofness” is perfectly played by Winslet. There is a magnificent scene of stasis, where she is as wintry as death itself. Superb performances also come from supporting actors Michael Shannon, whose function is akin to a wise Fool in Shakespearean drama, Kathy Bates as his mother, and Dylan Baker as Frank’s senior colleague.

Play
Revolutionary Road (2008).

Screenplay writer Justin Haythe uses almost verbatim dialogue from the novel, and Mendes’s efforts to keep to Yates’s depictions of lifestyle are ingenuous. Everyone smokes and drinks excessively, men talk jobs and money, women whip up delectable salads, and lives are steady behind picture windows smiling on freshly sprinkled lawns. We can see for ourselves just why “a man running down these streets in desperate grief” would be “indecently out of place”.

Costumes and colours add to Kristy Zea’s production design and illustrate what Mendes calls “mouth watering descriptions” from Yates’s text. Unforgettable are the back-to-back scenes of loneliness – Frank losing his individuality in a grey-suited sea of commuters and April standing alone on a sunny street pockmarked with garbage cans.

Typical of all Mendes’s films, the lighting (by veteran director of photography Roger Deakins) wistfully punctuates the story. The sun dipping behind the house signifying the last of good family times, the smoky blue of an expensive restaurant where men munch their lunch, the burnt red haze of the cheap discotheque where April drinks herself into a drunken dalliance, the harsh look of empty rooms before the all too quiet and nerve wracking breakfast scene – none of these visuals can go unnoticed.

Play
Revolutionary Road (2008).

Long before his volatile stage version of the greatest dad story of all (Shakespeare’s King Lear for National Theatre Live in 2014), Mendes had been autographing his films with a style of “stripping away” all the comforts that cocoon characters in their contexts. In Revolutionary Road, Yates’s stinging dialogue lacerates the fetid Wheeler home and harrowed faces with tired eyes show us a marriage in freefall. The house slides into disarray. Children are bundled out of sight and almost pushed out of mind, Then suddenly everything is still, too perfect, and an inexorable, chilling crisis is ushered in.

The film is made of riveting moments, but is somewhat ponderous and belaboured as a whole. With a running time of almost two hours and featuring at least six relevant characters, the fetish to give almost everyone equal screen time is excessive. Claustrophobic as the story of “hopeless emptiness” is, predictable close-ups further drag the pace. What a reader misses more than a viewer is the honesty of back stories as characters rescind into their crumbling inner worlds. The stain of “quiet desperation” that spreads beneath the fine weave of the text makes April courageous, not dramatic.

Yates cuts Frank loose, but our hopes are restored by Mendes, who signs Frank up as a sad, bad, but good dad and earns another clutch of nominations and awards.

Play
Tha making of Revolutionary Road.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.