Richard von Busack of Mr. Movietimes and Metroactive.com writes:
KATE WINSLET has now starred in two separate films inspired from Flaubertâ€™s Madame Bovary. First came last yearâ€™s Little Children, about the steamy dissatisfaction of a suburban mother. Now comes "Revolutionary Road," an intelligent, compact adaptation of Richard Yatesâ€™ 1961 novel about a married middle-class couple, lost in desire for the ungraspable.
â€œI want to feel things,â€ says April (Winslet), the female half of a pair of failed culture vultures. Itâ€™s all there in her blood-colored lips and turbulent brow. This womanâ€™s sensuality is never far from rage. Winslet gives a trembling yet tough performance, and she smokes a cigarette like she means it.
Sam Mendesâ€™ film amplifies the feminism in the book. Thatâ€™s no surprise, since Winslet, both a movie star and an eminent tragedian, takes the upper hand easily. Against this actressâ€”this forceâ€”Leonardo DiCaprio looks like the aging juvenile actor he is.
They meet at a party in lower Manhattan shortly after World War II. She, April, is an aspiring actress and falls for Frankâ€™s proto-Beat-generation suaveness. He, Frank, is an Army vet and a longshoreman who doesnâ€™t care much about what he does for a living.
When these dreams play out a few years later, Frank is commuting in from Connecticut into a dull job in the city. Mendes illustrates his fate in a few shots, with the help of a spine-chilling Thomas Newman soundtrack; we see narrow iron rails, folded newspapers, a wave of fedoras breaking on the steps of a Manhattan train station.
Now married, these Wheelers have two children, who are usually neither seen nor heard. And something has just died, and thatâ€™s Aprilâ€™s hopes of acting. Sheâ€™s frozen onstage when the curtain comes down on a failed little-theater production of "The Petrified Forest."
Aprilâ€™s humiliation leads into a top-volume film-noir fight between the couple on the roadside, right next to a 1950s bulgemobile. The following Monday, Frank celebrates his 30th birthday by having a secret extramarital afternooner with Maureen (Zoe Kazan), a pigeonlike secretary. When Frank returns home, April is contrite. She has a plan: the two of them can escape their suburban unhappiness, liquidate the house and take their kids to Paris. There, she reminds Frank, is the only place where people are really alive.
This moment of mutual exhilaration is doomed to failure, which wonâ€™t shock those who have read "Madame Bovary," a book consisting of a series of open doors that are first presented, then closed and locked.
Larger-than-life movie lines spell out the coupleâ€™s misery: â€œNo one forgets the truth, they just get better at lying.â€ Every great and deep movie needs something easily grasped in it; thatâ€™s the part that gets mistaken for melodrama.
The film is a ringing tragedy on many levels. First is the tragedy of the Wheelers themselves, with their essential lack of faith in each other. Their pride and prejudice donâ€™t help. Their sense of superiority blinds them to the world around them.
The film mocks the suburban drones around the Wheelers, but gently and sympathetically, just as Yates did. The supporting cast keeps providing new pleasures. Kathy Bates plays a gabbling but gentle realtor. As Frankâ€™s boss, Jay O. Sanders has a wonderful meaty, jowly 1950s face; he feeds that face, snapping at his business lunch while deftly fastening the chain around Frankâ€™s leg.
The great Kathryn Hahn plays the female half of the neighboring couple, the Wheelersâ€™ best pals. Sheâ€™s a comedienne willing to play it very dirty. She plays the soft, dim wife of a husband (David Harbour) who has a secret passion for April.
Michael Shannonâ€™s tangy dash of horror comedy is sublime; he plays an emotionally disturbed visitor who gets way too excited by the Wheelersâ€™ plan of European escape. This, too, represents the edge of melodrama, the madman who can say what everyoneâ€™s thinking.
Yet Shannonâ€™s one line of farewell is endlessly quotable, a summing up of life for generations of unplanned kids brought to term. "Revolutionary Road" is a movie for anyone who ever asked why some grim fate hitched up a draft ox and a prancing circus pony and then decided to present them to you as â€œyour parents.â€