08 February 2009

The Reader, Revolutionary Road

The Reader
Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross
David Hare (based on the book by Bernhard Schlink)
Stephen Daldry
Released: 01.09.09 (nation wide)

Weinstein Company, 124 mins., Rated R

**1/2 (out of ****)
I can't honestly suss out my feelings for THE READER. On one hand, it's quite good; the performances are fantastic, the script is decent, the editing - well, coulda been choppier. But I think the problem is is that it's an unmemorable movie, without anything really to grab your attention during its long, drawn-out running time. If you want a deep, thoughtful review of the flick, look elsewhere. I'm not one to analyze these type of movies until my brain pops from over-thinking things that are quite self-explanatory; but if you'd enjoy a fun write-up without any sucking up, you came to the right place.
Everyone's talking about Kate Winslet, but the person I found myself most engaged to is David Kross, playing the younger version of Fiennes character, Michael. Kross, especially during the trial, is able to pull off everything that's required of him in the scene: a desire to do the right thing, understanding that it could be quite beneficial for Hannah if he did, but scared because he doesn't want the affair exposed, either for his or her sake. He continues to smoke and pace to calm himself down; his eyes appear bloodshot, he makes rash decisions (such as his one-night stand with the blond girl from his group), and appears to be losing control of himself. At times, I half thought I was looking at a EPISODE III Anakin Skywalker, as at times, he looked freakin' devilish. In the film's beginning, whereas he plays the more innocent but compelled teenage boy, Kross delivers the goods there as well, but it's really during the trial where you can't help but think, "Damn, that was a good performance."
Alright, now let's talk about Winslet. Her performance in READER is arguably the better of the two, and it definitely deserves the nomination over REVOLUTIONARY ROAD; and it's not because she bares pretty much all, it's because it's actually quite far more emotionally moving, and because I cared about her character far more here than the other. Winslet is surprisingly at her best when she was under all the prosthetic make-up during her agey-sequences. I can't think of much to say about her other than she did a damn good job, and that I was quite impressed by her performance.
Voldemort/Fiennes doesn't have much to do here, sadly. His job is to look solemn and contemplative, and to that effect, he passes with shinning colors. His big confrontation sequence with a survivng member of the Holocaust is quite awkward (which I believe they were striving for), but how he acts and speaks doesn't fit well with the character, at least from my perspective. Speaking about frustration, when Fiennes meets up with Hannah in jail when she's about to be released, he acts like a total inconsiderate pompous ass. Again, that didn't seem to fit in with the established character, and leaves me a little puzzled.
Direction-wise, it felt very point-and-shoot. And the script (which I'm gonna put in the same boat as the editing) coulda benefitted from a bit of trimming, or at least not being so faithful to the book (or so I imagine). The first half of the movie plays like a soft-core porno, with the two leads bumping uglies; the middle portion of the movie, arguably the most interesting and engaging, is a procedural drama, and the last bit is the older version of Michael seeking redemption for his inactions. Essentially, it sounds like a perfect set-up for a really great, interesting movie, but it was just so...blah; so uninvolving. It was sorta like the filmmakers themselves didn't really give a hoot about the material, either. If everything was just tighter, more precise, I think the enjoyment level would have increased rather steadily.
I'm sure I completely glossed over the subtles of the film, and I'm fine with that. THE READER could definitely have been a fantastic movie, but as it is, it's just a bit above average, and the blame solely lies on the script and direction. It's still a recommended film on my part, I'm just going to warn you that you'll need plenty of pop and popcorn to stay awake towards the latter half (there was my shameless promotion of the concession stands! I should get some benefits...). It's sort of also funny that I wrote more about the movie I thought I didn't have much to say about than the one I thought I would be babbling on and on and on about. Alright, maybe I'm just amused.

Revolutionary Road
Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates
Justin Haythe (based on the novel by Richard Yates)
Sam Mendes
Released: 01.23.09 (nationwide)
Dreamworks, 119 mins., Rated R

*1/2 (out of ****)

This is what all the hype and build-up was about? See, this is a perfect example of why hype and build-up can potentially ruin the viewing pleasure of a equally potentially good movie and make it simply mediocre. Or perhaps REVOLUTIONARY ROAD was destined to be mediocre, make your choice. But the real reason why I found that I didn't particularly like this much-talked about flick was that I simply didn't give a damn about the characters or their so-called dilemmas. Actually, they sounded more like whiney adolescent brats more than grown adults, and that doesn't help the flick in any way.

The main premise is essentially that a couple (DiCaprio, Winslet) in the '50's purchase a house on Revoltuionary Road, and their once fun, adventurous-filled life has transformed into your cliched suburban American idea of the Dream - they got the beautiful house, the kids, the wealth, and the beauty. But that's not enough for them - they need a change. Initially, both parties are "All systems a-go!", but then Frank is offered more buckaroos at his place of employment, and that's a bit enticing. This doesn't bode well for the Mrs., April, who wants the move to Paris to take effect immediately. Suffice it to say, the Dream, and their love, is tested. And the real kicker is, the only rational, sane person in the entire movie is the dude who just got out of a institution!

To put it bluntly, both DiCaprio and Winslet displayed better acting chops eleven years ago in TITANIC. I dug Winslet in ETERNAL SUNSHINE more (a flick which I'm actually not a fan of, it may surprise you to know), and DiCaprio rocked my world a zillion times more in BLOOD DIAMOND (a film I'm sure no one else woulda picked, because you all seem to not like it, which I simply don't understand). They're unbelievable as a married couple, and quite frankly, they can't seem to deliver what they're given in a believable manner. Out of the two, DiCaprio gets the most sympathy. For one, he has one hell of a looney wife, who could very well reach a Norman Bates-mental breakdown; second, I understand where he's coming from. He, too, wants to get the hell out of Dodge, but really, the world's all about the dinero, and if he's getting offered mucho more bucks, it's a tempting offer, even despite the inevitable rift it would cause. As for Winslet - yeah, she's just comes off as Psycho Wife. I wouldn't blame Frank if he wanted to apply for the reality TV show Wife Swamp, I'd totally be there to support you, buddy! (I realize this may come across as insensitive or perhaps mean, but really, her character deserves the disses).

I don't dislike the movie because it's bleak and gloomy - I rejoice when those type of non-Hollywood titles are released; I just dislike it because it feels like the script is spoon-feeding us what we're supposed to be feeling and react to their actions. It's almost like it's desperately trying to make us care about these characters - and no matter how much it tries, I simply don't care. There was literally no drama whatsoever (you can pretty much guess every beat just from the synopsis' you can find online), and whatever drama they tried to instill came across very much like a CW teen drama. Yeah, I know I'm going to get death threats for that comment.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is getting a lot of praise for bringing up a topic which, frankly, has been done to death: love is difficult, marriages are even harder, and occasionally, things don't work out all that well. You've seen this in comedies, you've seen this in other dramas, in documentaries, etc., etc. It's nothing new, folks, and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD doesn't seem to want to venture into any new territory, but instead recycles the same stuff done before, and to better effect.

Concerning the cinematography, yes indeed, it is quite beautiful. Fantastic lighting, most of all. Neat compositions. I can't comment on the score because it's barely audible, but what I do recall is that at certain parts it sounded more like a horror movie than a drama.

Look, just because I didn't fancy REVOLUTIONARY ROAD doesn't mean you will too. In fact, I seem to be part of a very, very small minority when it comes to lack of insane praise. If you had to pick between the two, I'd say go for READER, despite it being just a few notches better, really. But if you don't mind an uninteresting, almost-a-good-movie-but-just-missed-the-mark drama that tells you how you're supposed to feel, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD delivers in spades.

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