While the two trade reviews of "Revolutionary Road" praise the performances -- especially those of leads Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, as well as supporting player Michael Shannon -- overall reaction to the picture itself depends on the critics' opinions of the source material, a 1961 novel by Richard Yates. (SPOILER ALERT)
As Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter was not a fan of the book, it is not surprising he thinks so little of the film. "Justin Haythe's script and Sam Mendes' direction hew closely to Richard Yates' 1961 novel. Which means it fails to escape the novelist's misogyny and contempt for anything suburban. The phrase seized upon in both works is 'hopeless emptiness.' It's apt."
Writing for Variety, Todd McCarthy also draws a comparison with the novel and finds, "With one notable exception toward the end, Haythe and Mendes capture the primal emotional and thematic points of the book as they try to find a cinematic way to express the subtext of Yates' prose, which most distinguishes itself through the precise expressions of minute changes in emotion, attitude and thought -- what might he say, what should she say, what does he feel, what's she really thinking, how did he and she react at the same moment? Even when the dramatic temperature is cranked up to high, the picture's underpinnings seem only partly present, to the point where one suspects that what it's reaching for dramatically might be all but unattainable -- perhaps approachable only by Pinter at his peak."
However, McCarthy found the film, "constantly engrossing, as it successfully engages the Wheelers' yearning to rescue themselves from their decorous, socially acceptable oblivion, just as it clearly defines how the 'trap' is stronger than they are. The rows, tender moments and downtime in between are fully inhabited and powerfully charged by DiCaprio and Winslet. For his part, DiCaprio often achieves the kind of double register the film as a whole less consistently captures, as he indicates Frank's thought process in the split second before he decides what to say." And he thought, "Winslet's perf is less surprising, perhaps, if only because she has shown tremendous range throughout her career. April is a difficult role in that her mood changes sometimes seem inexplicable, but the thesp makes them all seem genuine, which resonates with Frank's occasional hints that she's possibly in need of psychiatric help. Winslet's starkly etched April is steely, strong and brittle, capable of great highs and lows as well as massive uncertainty."
Such a ringing endorsement certainly underscores why the film's stars have made it into the top 5 on the latest edition of the Buzzmeter. And Honeycutt's dismissal of the film as "essentially, a repeat for Mendes of 'American Beauty,' right down to the formal camera compositions, repetitive musical chords and shocking death at the end" could explain why neither the helmer nor the picture itself is generating the same buzz more than a month before the Christmas opening.
One name to watch for in the Buzzmeter in the coming weeks could be Michael Shannon. McCarthy makes special mention of his "startling supporting turn" and says he is, "mesmerizing as the clinically insane son of local realtor and busybody Helen Givings (Kathy Bates). He's a loony who is able to tell the truth about the Wheelers that everyone else so politely avoids; when Shannon is onscreen, it's impossible to watch anyone else." And for Honeycutt, "The moment he walks into the Wheeler household, he cuts through all the b.s. as he immediately discerns the couple's tenuous relationship. He asks all the right, damaging questions and makes all the right, devastatingly accurate observations."