Kim Voynar at MCN gives her reasons why Revolutionary Road didn’t quite work for her and while this may explain why it hasn’t worked for the literary purists, it certainly doesn’t explain why the actors did not nominated Michael Shannon for his extraordinary turn in the film, nor does it particularly explain why people won’t watch the screener or why those who don’t know anything about the book seem to be shying away from the film. I like Voynar’s piece but I disagree a bit with her conclusion:
DiCaprio and Shannon play this scene very well in the film, but I had the sense watching it (as I did much of the film) that DiCaprio and Winslet were playing Frank and April with the fuller knowledge of the characters as gleaned from the book than what they actually had to work with in the screenplay. And while this says a great deal about the power of both performances, and both DiCaprio and Winslet do a fantastic job of breathing more subtext into Frank and April than the screenplay actually gave either of them to work with, I would have liked the film better overall had more of the subtext crucial to the feel of the book actually made it into the story arc onscreen.
Voynar also explains that she is aware that much must be decided and deleted when adapting a lengthy novel. For me, films that try too hard to stick to the novel never quite develop their own life; the films that “murder their darlings” and create their own world that most fascinate me. What I liked, or responded to, in Road was that it didn’t simplify for the audience or overexplain. I am thinking specifically of the one scene where April Wheeler comes off stage and looks to her husband for his response — it is all done on Winslet’s face and needs no other explanation. I appreciated how Mendes did this — redrawing a paragraph into a poem.
Unfortunately, Revolutionary Road hasn’t been released and therefore the discussion is left to people who have seen it, which aren’t many. That has to be the greatest debacle of 2008 – the films are left dying on the vine long before they ever open to an audience.¬†¬† I understand the strategy – hoping for awards heat before they open helps them at the box office. But awards don’t necessarily bounce off of blogger chatter. Films like Revolutionary Road need the intelligence of uptown critics to find their place.¬† And either way, the film faces a tough crowd out there, a hurting crowd of people who just don’t want to go there right now. They are looking for escapism all the way – give them a Dickensian love story, an animated masterpiece, a Dark Knight.