Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Performances of the Decade (Female)

There’s a slight conceit that occurs where certain actors are concerned. They become perceived as so important that any role they take on that’s features in a particularly solid film is seen as Oscar begging. On a conscious level I suppose every actor would like an Oscar, but I sincerely doubt that actors spend their waking moments plotting how to get one. It’s simply an occupational hazard when X role seems “made for Oscars” and even though they don’t all succeed in their ostensible quest – that doesn’t make them any less valuable. The initial backlash against this film was harsh, but hopefully in years to come it will be remembered more fondly.
#3 Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road (2008)
The first time I saw Revolutionary Road I was floored. I will continue to maintain that it was one of the most brilliant relationship dramas of the last decade. Winslet stars as April Wheeler. It’s somewhere in the fifties and the bleak mundanely of the surroundings are stifling this woman who once upon a time dreamed of being bohemia and becoming an actress. The film forces her to start out on a high as she exchanges tense words with her husband Frank (an excellent Leonardo DiCaprio). I suppose a simplistic way to describe April would be frigid and if we watch Kate in those first few moments we’d agree. Her line readings are so caustic and there’s an impenetrable (almost inhuman) expression on her face as she rebuffs the advances of her husband. But it’s upon closer expression that we realise just how much of a mask this cold exterior. April is just as immature and emotionally regressive as her husband. She just has a different way of coping. It’s something Kate understands and elucidates cleverly.
A particular scene that sticks out for me is the one where April breaks her fresh idea to Frank – the trip to Paris. As Frank comes home tired and almost gaunt and April (ignorant of it all) is so delighted, so ready to forget the past and celebrate his birthday the eagerness on her face is sad, pathetic almost. As she reassures Frank of his importance in the world we hear the unsaid words too. She’s really telling him that if he’s not important then she’s not important either, for what is it to be the wife of an unimportant slob? It’s an earnestness that is striking, an earnestness that makes the harshness of Revolutionary Road even more disheartening. Kate is careful to define her character as time goes by, but never overdoes it. April is not exactly a reactive character, but isn’t all acting reacting? It’s interesting to watch Kate as she reacts to the odd one out in the cast. Notice how Kate defines her character in those two pivotal visits of John. In the first April is still under the delusion of breaking free and even as she is repulsed by this man, she’s still strangely fascinated. But it’s the second moment which thrills me. It’s more of a moment for DiCaprio, but there’s a long take where Kate has no lines but just sits with a cigarette between her fingers – silent. It’s a chilling moment, and so controlled. You can’t take your eyes off her.
But at the end of the day, Revolutionary Road is a story about the Wheelers and Kate thrives opposite Leo. The final argument between the two is the one of the most piercing exchanges I can recall in recent cinema. Cold April is at her peak here as she savours the quotable lines: "I loathe the sight of you. You’re just a boy who made me laugh at a party once…”. Her hysteria is unsettling, but it’s the morning after that breaks your heart. As she prepares her deathly deed and reaches out – for the final time – to her husband the skill of Kate is unquestionable. I can almost see her trying to tell him goodbye. The final call she places to her children is so poignant but Kate never goes for the obvious and plays it just right. She finds the humanity in her flawed character and turns it into brilliance.
Unfortunately Kate’s work in Revolutionary Road was ignored by Oscar, but do you think it’s worthy?


Burning Reels said...

I rewatched this recently and with her recent break-up with the director, this film has became even more complex and fascinating.

Whilst she isn't stretching her limits, it is a nicely judged and consistent performance and you can't argue that her and DiCaprio do have splendid chemistry.

joe burns said...

Great performance! I thought she was brilliant! I think she was better in Little Children, but this was amazing! Your review made me remember how good she was. My pick for Best Actress is Anne Hathway in Rachel Getting Married, but I know you didn't like her.

Nigel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nigel said...

Agreed. Is it just me, or Kate has a way with he eyes. Not like in the Marisa-Tomei way where it seems to be natural and reactionary (The Wrestler). But in the sense that she's seems to be in control of what her eyes are doing in a particular scene.

It's very true in that scene you reference, the one in which she just sits there silently, smoking a cigarette.

anahita said...

I loved her in this, it was an amazing performance - I adored leo too, they played so brilliantly off each other. The film itself was so grim that I doubt I'll ever really watch it again, but the performances have still stuck with me since I saw it last year xx

Danny King said...

I agree with you completely. Career-best work from Winslet and DiCaprio in my opinion; certainly one of the most intense couples of the past ten years.

Luke said...

It was a quite good performance. I don't know if it had quite the drama of The Reader, but maybe that's what makes it better than that film in many regards. It was one depressing flick, but it was a great showcase for Winslet and DiCaprio's talents.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

burning reels they do have great chemistry.

joe i sure don't like hathaway, no matter how i try.

nigel she does have control over them.

danny glad you agree.

luke depressing indeed.