Revolutionary Road

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Director Sam Mendes; Release date: out now

This is a story about two people who rejected the American dream. The scenario of the mother at home with two children in a suburban house with a white picket fence while the father commutes to a corporate job was the thing of their nightmares. Instead, as young and idealist lovers, everything seemed possible. Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) planned to break conventions and live their dreams.

We see this in flashback as we watch them being drawn inexorably deeper into the very life they despised. Frank Wheeler is now one of the commuters who, lemming-like, pour out of the station every day - although he maintains a cynical distance with the conviction that he's different from the rest. But for April the reality of being housebound with children, however pretty their house on Revolutionary Road, is soul destroying. This is the decade before the Women's Liberation movement and it was this sort of experience that inspired Betty Friedan to write The Feminine Mystique.

We follow the divergence of their aspirations and the tortuous disintegration of their relationship. In one powerful scene, Kate Winslet makes breakfast the morning after she and Frank have had their biggest argument. From a distance all looks normal. She appears as a "Stepford wife" automaton, whisking eggs as the coffee brews. But as the camera lingers on her you see the rage, bitterness and suppressed emotions written across her face. It is chilling and an astonishingly controlled piece of acting. If Friedan's "problem with no name" could be encapsulated in one film frame this would be it.

Based on the superb novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road shines a light on how the pressure to conform can crush people. Everyone around the Wheelers is affected by their attempt to break from the suffocating mould of their lives, for it places a stark mirror in front of their own.

It asks who is sane and rational - those who challenge society's expectations or those who accept them? The one character who can see through all the crap is a psychiatric patient, while April is advised to see a doctor. She is one of the generations of women encouraged to believe their feelings of frustration and emptiness were a problem that could be solved by therapy or tranquillisers. Women's oppression was experienced and treated as a psychological disorder.

Revolutionary Road has its flaws. One is the miscasting of Leonardo DiCaprio. He can act but he simply doesn't have the physical presence of the man he is playing. Frank hankers after the intensity of living he experienced during the war, yet DiCaprio looks like he would have been in short trousers ten years previously, not fighting in the army. The film occasionally has the feeling of being a filmed stage play and I found the reconstruction of 1950s Americana too self-conscious.

But this is a thoroughly thought-provoking film that reveals brutal truths about society through the broken dreams of one couple.