Revolutionary Road 3.5/4
(Paramount Vantage, Rated R)
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead) and based on the scathing Richard Yates novel, Revolutionary Road takes us through the dull, when not combative, Wheeler marriage of April (Kate Winslet) and Dashing Dan workaholic Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), as a rude awakening to the hermetic reality of 1950s suburban conformist existence, as their marriage threatens to disintegrate under the weight of ferocious battles. And at any moment, we expect a deeply depressed and chain-smoking though still domestically dutiful April to morph into Sylvia Plath and be poised to stick her head in that gas oven. But like the many housewives of that generation, April resigns herself to living a life of quiet desperation, not so much with Frank, but through him. Though at times too moody for its own good, this is a tense, heartbreaking and unforgiving drama, and an emotionally and visually eloquent tale that resolutely stalks the memory.
Waltz With Bashir 4/4
(Sony Pictures Classics, Rated R)
This anti-war feature simultaneously blasts its way into theaters and through the minds of audiences in animation. An Israeli Apocalypse Now, the film is a subjective, visceral account of war trauma through the eyes and damaged psyche of another combat vet-turned-filmmaker, Ari Folman. And more in the tradition of horror than docudrama, these terrifying images are not so much depicted as unleashed in a series of post-traumatic nightmares experienced by Ari’s mentally damaged fellow vets. Ari as himself struggles with a complete failure of memory during the horrific mass slaughter of thousands of Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. Folman, a child of Auschwitz survivors, doesn’t flinch from the images of the young detained men with crucifixes carved into their chests by their captors, the dead children, and the gnawing self-accusation: Am I now the Nazi? Waltz With Bashir is that rare feature that is equally among the best films of the year and the most important.
The Wrestler 4/4
(Fox Searchlight Pictures, Rated R)
Darren Aronofsky, that clean-cut mastermind with a mysterious dark side, touches down in masterpiece territory with The Wrestler, with temperamental comeback kid Mickey Rourke as his roughneck muse. Once-reigning 1980s champ The Ram, of the Jersey wrestling circuit, Rourke’s beaten-down-but-unbending fighter who can’t even pay his trailer rent, makes a new bid to regain his reputation and pride in the wrestling ring, despite the ravages of age and a dissipated life. Aronofsky drags us through grueling gladiatorial matches that are difficult to watch without cringing, but impossible not to, as Ram embraces excruciating performance misery and mutilation as a way of life and his sole source of remaining dignity. If anything, The Wrestler exposes the troublesome psychological and physical damage of often-destructive notions of masculinity and masculine identity in this culture that seep out of all those superhero fantasies crowding the screens. If Rourke doesn’t grab an Oscar, there is no justice on this planet.