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Paramount Vantage

Road rage

Movies | The visual appeal of latest Mendes film is its only attraction

Issue: "Millions cut down," Jan. 17, 2009

This is the second time that British American Beauty director Sam Mendes has presumed to tell suburban Americans about themselves, and in that respect the soulless Revolutionary Road is an improvement. No longer filming screenwriter Alan Ball's snide pokes at the lonely and insecure, Mendes has instead adapted Richard Yates' brilliant 1961 novel about a marriage near collapse.

Hollywood's most expensive couple, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (Mendes' wife), play the raging Frank and April Wheeler. The two actors were Jack and Rose in Titanic more than a decade ago, but Mendes replaces that movie's corniness with a meticulously cruel itemization of every flaw in the lives of a formerly promising couple who can no longer hide from the realization that sneaks up on most young adults: They are not as special as they thought they were.

The novel's strength comes from the sympathy Yates has for both parties in this horribly melting marriage, despite their faults. That strength has largely vanished from Mendes' gorgeously performed adaptation, which substitutes the visual equivalent of Yates' incredible formal discipline. The movie's sympathies are for its supporting characters, mostly New York stage actors, one of whom rages in the center of a frame that leaves him blurry and instead focuses on Winslet's profile as she stoically absorbs his abuse. It's a gorgeous shot of an awful scene-as good a metaphor for the movie as any.

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Frank and April visit just about every indignity they can imagine on one another-cruel words, infidelity (literalized but highly unsexy-the film is rated R for nudity and cursing, when the characters' polite euphemisms break down into their component calumnies), and finally, April's revenge. The main characters are both unpleasant people who have inexplicably earned the director's fascination. They certainly don't earn ours.

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