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The Book and the Movie – Revolutionary Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t meant to take so long for Richard Yates‘ highly acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road to find its way to the big screen. The book was released in 1961 and was planned to be adapted to film soon after, but problems with putting together a usable script and distribution rights kept the movie project in development hell for decades. It wasn’t until 2008 when the finished film was actually released. By then, Yates himself had been dead for 16 years. So it goes.

Set in 1950s America, the story told is of the middle-class married couple Frank and April Wheeler (in the film played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). They live in suburban Connecticut, with Frank working a dull office job while April looks after their two kids. As the drudgery of suburbia starts taking its toll on their marriage, they hatch a plan to move to Paris to give Frank time to find his purpose in life and become all that he can be. Complications arise however, and the marriage keeps crumbling.

The movie follows the novel quite faithfully in terms of plot. Some parts are left out, but it still mostly plays out the same way in both mediums. A lot of the dialogue is also lifted straight from the source with no rewriting, which works well since it gives a sense of accuracy to the language of the time period. Screenwriter Justin Haythe has put forth an effective script here, one that hits most of the notes of the book while still keeping things running smoothly.

The novel is told mostly from Frank’s point of view, with a few choice passages devoted to April, their neighbors the Campbells and their realtor Helen Givings. In the movie, April gets a bit more room to play and we see things a bit more from her perspective. This is a smart move as she’s a crucial character, and in a medium where one can’t delve as much into Frank’s thought process, something else is needed to add richness to the relationship between the two characters. They come off as more on equal terms here than in the novel, even if it still remains largely Frank’s story.

Indeed, the thing I miss most in the movie is partaking in Frank’s reasoning. He’s constantly rationalizing and planning ahead in the novel, especially during a prolonged period of arguement between him and April which he strategizes as though it was a military operation. Another thing the movie fails to go into is Frank’s feelings towards his father. Some scenes in the movie concerning this took on a somewhat different meaning for me when I rewatched it after having read the novel.

Director Sam Mendes does a lot of things right with his adaptation, however. Revolutonary Road isn’t the first time he’s made a film about people trapped in suburbia. His debut American Beauty dealt with the same subject matter, so it’s something he’s familiar with. He still finds new ways and angles to approach the themes, though. One striking sequence early on in the film shows Frank on his way to work, surrounded by people just like him, men in the same suits and the same hats, mulling about like ants in an ant farm. It’s a great way to visualize Frank’s feelings of being stuck in mundanity when he and April have always considered themselves to be special and destined for better things. Thomas Newman‘s score, including the recurring main theme, is also a big point in the film’s favor.

And then we have the actors who uniformly do a fine job. Winslet is the stand-out, always giving off the imprssion of believability despite the shifting moods her character goes through. DiCaprio is vivid as Frank, always on edge. When the role calls for him to really fly odd the handle, he doesn’t disappoint. The two actors have great chemistry together and not once am I reminded of them being star-crossed lovers in Titanic a decade earlier. They embody their parts here very neatly. In the supporting cast we find a solid pool of talent: Kathy Bates, Dylan Baker, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Shannon and others. All good or great.

I found the film quite enthralling the first two times I saw it. It’s a striking portrayal of the hopeful 50s and the pressure that time could create, with enough new facets to the image of suburban life to keep it from becoming a retread of American Beauty for Mendes. Through the actors, the score, the set designs and much more, Revolutionary Road is a great film in its own right, and one that holds up surprisingly well even after having read the novel.

That being said, I do like the book better. We get much better insight into the characters, and this really helps to create even more nuances and depth to the themes of the novel. It’s one of those things where the film doesn’t feel lacking for not having it, but the book is very much enrichened by it. Yates doesn’t utilize the kind of extensive vocabulary that’s on display in the other books I’ve talked about on this blog (Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road and Rex Pickett‘s Sideways), but this is not a minus. The prose flows really well and it’s easy to get caught in the characters and their loves. It’s a proper page-turner even when you know how it’s going to end.

So in conclusion: great film, greater novel. Pick whichever medium suits you best, but if that’s a tie, go for the book. It’s a story well worth experiencing either way.

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Posted by on 17 September, 2011 in The Book and the Movie

 

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The Book and the Movie: Sideways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every now and then, you happen upon a movie that really resonates with you. Sideways is such a film for me. There is a lot of myself that I see in Paul Giamatti‘s Miles, just as there’s tons of a certain friend of mine in the Jack character played by Thomas Haden Church. The tale of these two buddies embarking on a road trip through California’s wine county before Jack’s getting hitched is a funny one to be sure, but also very insightful and honest. It’s one of those movies I can watch time and time again and still be entertained.

The Rex Pickett novel it’s based on was an interesting read for a big fan of the film like myself. While the overall story arc remains the same, the set pieces and individual events often vary wildly. In particular, the two friends’ interactions with Maya and Tera (who oddly became Stephanie in the film) will provide some surprises for anyone who reads the novel after having gotten familiar with its adaptation. That’s certainly not all of it, though. The book takes more time to develope the bond between Miles and Jack, including a number of parts where the women are nowhere to be seen (including a very memorable boar-hunting episode). A bit more emphasis is put on the fact that the trip is something of an end-of-an-era for the two, as they’re both aware that they won’t have any chance to embark on week-long trips with just the two of them once Jack enters matrimony. There’s more melancholy to be had inbetween the comedy in the book’s pages.

The story in the novel is told from Miles’ perspective, and it shows. Since he’s a writer, an intellectual and a snob, Miles takes great delight in using big fancy words almost provocatively, both in and out of dialogue. If I were to follow countless English teacher’s suggestion to always underline and look up words I don’t quite understand, my copy of Sideways would look a mess. It’s all good, though. Most of the time it doesn’t matter as much what the word means as the fact that Miles uses the word does. There is also naturally a lot of talking about wines, the beverages often so vividly described that I almost feel like getting into the hobby myself (not that I will).

Perhaps what surprised me most was realizing how much of the movie is original. Some of the big important scenes of the film are either not in the novel at all or drastically different. Biggest example might be the conversation between Miles and Maya on the patio where they indirectly talk about themselves in terms of grapes, a discussion that is nowhere to be found in the book. A lot of the film’s best jokes and gags are its own as well. The chewing gum scene, for instance, and the faked traffic accident is different enough to warrant mention here as well. Director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor have done a superb job of altering things while still keeping true to the tone of the novel.

All these differences between the book and the movie means that they’re both worth experiencing. You’ll recognize the characters and the story, but you’ll get to see an alternate version of the events taking place, with new dialogue and fresh laughs. I do like the movie better. Maybe it’s because I saw it before reading the book, but a lot of things just seem to work better in visual form. Reading about Miles walking in on Jack mid-coitus or about Jack chasing after some golfers while swinging his club around is funny, but it can’t compare to actually seeing it happen on the screen. And then there’s the great performances from the four main players, with Giamatti in particular being perfectly cast. It’s a wonderful story to behold no matter which medium you choose, but it holds up well enough to warrant a double-dip.

 
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Posted by on 7 July, 2011 in The Book and the Movie

 

The Book and the Movie – The Road

I don’t know about you, but I love reading. I can’t not have a book at my bedside table to burn through some pages of before sleep finds me at night. Lately, I’ve been trying to check out books that have had notable films based on them. It’s often interesting to see how they differ and what they have in common. Ideally, it’s a symbiotic relationship between the two medias. The novel can help flesh out characters and situations that might have seemed a bit thin in the film, and likewise, a movie can do wonders to bring the world of a book to life and craft atmosphere and an audiovisual experience that the original obviously can’t beyond the reader’s own imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy‘s Pulitzer-winning 2006 novel The Road, which of course was made into a feature film in 2009 by John Hillcoat, with Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the leads. Both the film and the book follow a father and his son as they make their way through the barren post-apocalyptic U.S., struggling to survive under threats of cannibals, raiders, disease and starvation.

I was thoroughly impressed by the movie when I watched it about half a year ago. Post-apocalypse has rarely seemed so utterly bleak and desolate. Plants and animals are dead, civilization is in ruins and man has become hostile and paranoid. The rare glimmers of hope and recuperation that often can be found in works of the genre are pretty much nowhere to be found. There are no settlements where groups of people have banded together to try to rebuild some form of society, no secret greenhouses where plantlife is being kept alive. The world is dying. The man and the boy are making their way south to escape the harsh winters, but there’s nothing that says things are any better down there. The story focuses on the bond between the two protagonist, both relying on the other in order to keep going, and it’s portrayed really well. Viggo Mortensen has never been better, and Kodi Smit-McPhee goes beyond the norm for child actors.

Having now read the book, I can say that the movie doesn’t stray too far from its source material. In terms of story and themes explored, there’s not a lot that has been altered in any drastic way. What the novel does really well is to establish a rhythm to both the descriptive text and the dialogue. There are no chapters. The text is broken up into paragraphs of varying length, and since there’s no big stopping points beyond that, it’s very easy to get caught up in “just one more” syndrome. The writing fits the atmosphere of the world being portrayed, with sentences and dialogue often kept short, to-the-point and in a way soemwhat suffocating. Cormac McCartthy has a very extensive vocabulary however, and great know-how of how to use it. Once you get into the feel and tone of the book, it’s hard to stop reading. It’s very well-written.

If one is only interested in the story, there’s not a whole lot of reason to both read the novel and watch the film. As I said, they’re largely similar, so choosing one of the two should be sufficient. They’re both really good and make excellent use of their respective forms, though. The movie has a very stunning look to it and paints up a harrowing image of the world, and Mortensen is really great. The novel on the other hand brings McCarthy’s impressive way with words to the table and the dialogue between the man and the boy arguably flows a bit better in written form. If I have to pick, I’d probably go with the film personally. It’s a close one though, and maybe it’s just because I watched it before reading the book. So just pick the form that appeals more to you. It’s a story worth experiencing either way.

 
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Posted by on 7 June, 2011 in Books, The Book and the Movie