Last night I found myself watching “Revolutionary Road.” It is an adaptation of the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. It’s a dark commentary on American life in the 1950s and had some stunning performances and beautiful photography. The performance I found most captivating was the portrayal of John Givings by Michael Shannon. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role. The scene below was the best in the film. Michael Shannon’s character is a former mathematician who is now under psychiatric care in a mental institution. His character is the voice of truth in this film. As I start to shoot and write myself I am beginning to view films in a completely different way, with a new appreciation for how writers use characters to make their points. I notice how multiple characters are used to convey the message of a single voice. I see subtle ploys who’s genius are revealed only upon dissection. I see the dance, the give and take between the communicator and receiver. In the scene embedded below notice how Yates uses the Michael Shannon character to say what Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are thinking but to afraid to say. The couple played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet planned to move to Paris to escape the mundane suburban life. A trip that Leonardo’s character was much less excited about than Kate’s character. A trip that gets cancelled because Kate’s character becomes pregnant by Leonardo’s. Take a look at how this scene plays out.
Michael Shannon makes two appearances in this film, and in both cases Yates uses his character to move the story along by stating the truth. To have the characters get to the truth themselves would have lengthened the storyline. As an editor I appreciate the value of shortcuts. Some may argue that it is an easy out. I say it is unless it is artfully done. In this case it is.
One other note about this scene. The framing is genius in it’s simplicity. The balance achieved by the straightforward composition may look elementary at first glance, but takes an artful eye and courageous spirit to pull it off. Ask yourself would you frame it with such simple composition? With millions being invested in this film would you be tempted to try and make it more complex? Or would you trust that such a simple composition could carry such a heavy scene?
If you want to see more it is currently available on HBO or you can grab it on netflix.