The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Revolutionary Road': Big ads but no awards

December 18, 2008 |  5:48 pm

Talk about bad timing! On a day when Paramount Vantage ran a whopping seven full-page ads in the New York Times for its awards season contender, “Revolutionary Road,” the movie failed to score a Screen Actors Guild ensemble cast nomination, a leading indicator for which films will earn a pivotal best picture Oscar nomination. Coming off a weak showing with the top critics groups—it was shut out by both the New York and LA film critics—this may spell doom for Sam Mendes’ wonderfully crafted adaptation of the cult Richard Yates novel, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as an unhappily married couple in late-1950s suburbia.Ca1204camendes02

The budget for the film, which Paramount produced along with DreamWorks, ended up in the $45-million range. As any kid running a lemonade stand in Beverly Hills could tell you, that’s way too much for a movie that is the 2008 equivalent of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” a bleak drama about a marriage that starts out on shaky ground and gets worse as it goes along.

So how did the movie get made? In a word—pedigree. Adaptations of Yates’ book kicked around Hollywood for years (it was published in 1961) before Winslet fell in love with a script by Justin Haythe. When she asked Scott Rudin, the film’s producer, who should make the movie, he suggested Mendes, who, conveniently enough, was indeed the right man to direct the picture—and also her husband. Everyone at DreamWorks was a big fan of Mendes, who made two movies at the studio, including studio chief Stacey Snider, who made Mendes' last film, “Jarhead,” at Universal. Once DiCaprio signed on, it was obvious that everyone hoped that the star power—DiCaprio and Winslet, who appeared together in “Titanic,” the biggest-grossing film in Hollywood history—would triumph over the bleak subject matter.

Now Paramount has its work cut out, as it tries to find a way to market a terrific film with zero crowd-pleasing appeal. In an era where downer movies are out of fashion, “Revolutionary Road” needs every great review it can get just to have a shot at breaking even. I worry that the die is already cast, with the movie screening so late in the awards cycle that most critics, not to mention SAG members, already had other favorites in mind when the time came to vote. After the dust settles, it may be harder than ever to get a movie like this made, which would be a loss for us all. But maybe it will be a bracing reminder that if you want to make an ambitious film, even if you cast it up with movie stars, you still need a new lean 'n' mean business model to make the numbers work.

Photo of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Revolutionary Road" from  DreamWorks Pictures