“If you do a film about the Holocaust,” Kate Winslet reckoned in Extras, “you’re guaranteed an Oscar.” Or, try a prestigious lit-flick with the leads from the Biggest Movie Of All Time and an Oscar-blessed director.
That’s the cynical jab. In reality, Sam Mendes’ adaptation of Richard Yates’ ’61 novel at least strikes out for antiromantic waters. Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio play Frank and April Wheeler, lovers-turned spouses and parents.
This time they’re not doomed by iceberg but shored up in the suburbs. Frank enjoys dips in the secretarial pool at a job he hates. April plays
housewife but she’s no actress. Plans to move to Paris rejuvenate them, but will the ’burbs let go?
There’s plenty to admire here. DiCaprio and Winslet channel much nuance into their home-based hell. Mendes’ level-headed helming is best at pinpointing the brutality of banality, while Roger Deakins’ lush cinematography stylises suburbia as a lavish velvet coffin for its residents.
Quality work, then. But, impeccable as it is, there’s something a bit over-determined about Road. Casualties of Justin Haythe’s subtext-stuffed script include Michael Shannon, whose truth-spouting loony turn is strong but marred by the plot-device characterisation.
The relentless score rarely stops goading, either. And while the suffocatingly perfect staging seems made to match a study in feelings stifled, it still whiffs of overdeliberation.
And so we’re left with a film much like the ’burbs: a seemingly sure and respectable thing, without enough room for life to seep in.