Sunday, January 11, 2009
Sam Mendes is right at home with this Strindbergian themed account of a troubled relationship set during the 1950’s. I would have appreciated this film more, it’s masterfully put together in every way save its score, but it covers such familiar territory, territory even Mendes himself has covered before, that it’s hard to feel any sort of immediacy or really any emotional impact even with the amount of talent which is at work here. Some may perceive the film as an exercise in Oscar baiting; though, if you’re into watching people destroy each other for two hours maybe you’ll disagree. DiCaprio shows tremendous restraint and his facial acting is quite impressive as the once idealistic husband now turned company cog. Winslet has the hardest role in the film, playing the wild at heart housewife who wants to see the world, and manages to not be condescending to her character. The plot and themes are very similar to every other stuck in suburban hell chamber drama of recent years (American Beauty, The Hours, Little Children, etc), and likewise it’s not pleasant territory. However, Mendes does a terrific job of walking a difficult line in presenting the piece and its period straight without moving into post-modern revisionism, or parodic melodrama (as its fellow old school era-melodrama Doubt recently did). One of his greatest talents in presenting the film in such a careful way is the care to which he gives in crafting the characters played by a strong supporting cast which includes Michael Shannon as the films’ Raisonneur (the neighbor’s son fresh from the mental hospital, and the only voice of reason), Kathy Bates as his mother and Richard Easton (who’s solid every scene he’s in and gives the film its one ray of hope) as her husband, Dylan Baker (who’s contractually obligated to be in these kinds of films, it seems, as the co-worker), and David Harbour (as the longing neighbor).
The casting choices of Winslet, DiCaprio and Bates cannot be ignored and this film could be read as the rebuttal to the “my heart will go on” view of love from Titanic. Perhaps an alternate world where the two survived the shipwreck, and tried to settle down in Connecticut. Here, passion burns those who possess it, and even love is not enough to hold a family together; the spontaneity, recklessness, and passion of the young love romanticized in Titanic is what eventually leads to tragedy in this film.