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"Revolutionary Road" *** 1/2 (119 minutes)

Saturday February 21, 2009

In 1999, English stage director Sam Mendes exploded onto the cinematic scene directing the brilliant "American Beauty", taking home 5 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. Was it a fluke? Hardly. He has since gone on to direct and/or produce 7 winning films (his Rotten Tomatoes critic rating is a perfect 100%!) including this latest gem-reuniting Leonardo and wife Kate 11 years after their co-starring "Titanic" gig.

Screenwriter Justin Haythe has undertaken the difficult task of adapting Richard Yates' first novel, written in 1961, about a 50's couple struggling to make their marital relationship work, that unflinchingly zeros in on suburban life and marriage during the Eisenhower years. We witness the entire arc of the marriage from meeting until . . . well, no spoiler here. However, in between we are voyeurs to a disintegrating marriage that allow the main characters to expertly practice their craft. The chemistry that DiCaprio and Winslet first exhibited together in "Titanic" has matured and carried over here as the joys and tribulations they encounter together over the 2 hours of running time totally engages the audience.

The superb cast includes the always reliable Kathy Bates as their realtor, and an Oscar nominated performance by Michael Shannon ("8 Mile", "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead", & William Friedken's "Bug) , who plays her mentally unstable son recently released from a psychiatric hospital. It seems that Kathy wants her son to meet Frank and April to try and establish some normalcy to his life. The delicious irony is that he appears to be closer to normality than all the principals combined! (His standout performance might have won an AA in most years-but not this one.)

Thomas Newman, as he did in "American Beauty", has added an unforgettable, beautiful haunting score to effectively back up the action. Finally, special kudos to the extraordinary production design by Kristi Zea ("Goodfellas") in which she has lovingly recreated suburban America in the 1950's as well as any film in memory.

A superb effort from all those in front of and behind the cameras.

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