I don’t like to read books before watching their cinematic adaptations, because I tend to come down more harshly on the film due to the baggage of expectations. Such is the case with Sam Mendes’ interpretation of Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road.
The strength of novel is that its critique of fifties suburbia is elevated by the internal perspective; the way seemingly mundane conversations are framed as strategic warfare, defined by careful manoeuvring and social attrition. By – necessarily – culling this aspect in translation, the narrative is flattened out into a tale of affairs, promotions and travel plans. About the only time it channels Yates’ livewire rebellion is when Michael Shannon is on screen as a deranged neighbour whose lack of filter lends him a cutting insight.
As a kind of low-key tragedy, a depiction of the restrictive bonds of conformity and the toll it takes, it’s adequate but straightforward. Both Di Caprio and Winslet are fine, but it’s like they’re rehearsing for a highlights reel rather than inhabiting their characters. Revolutionary Road is too faithful to its subject material which, conversely, harms its ability to channel the themes of the novel. It’s good, but would’ve benefited from a more filmic approach.