There wasn’t much call for surprise when the deal was announced that would see Sam Mendes directing an adaptation of the acclaimed Richard Yates novel Revolutionary Road. In 1961 Yates used the novel to examine the same suburban disquiet that Mendes toyed with in American Beauty. ‘Toyed’ being used deliberately, for while Mendes put a face to suburban unrest, he never quite imbued it with a soul.

So while Revolutionary Road wasn’t unexpected material for the director, it does pose questions. Will this be a step forward for Mendes, or is this comfort zone material? Can he play with the story at all, or is this an adaptation by the numbers? Can we get a cut with just a score on the audio track so we can easily take in the cinematography of Roger Deakins?

The story follows a couple, Frank and April Wheeler, who live a life of Connecticut suburban monotony while nurturing a sense of superiority and cache of dreams that simultaneously drives and poisons them. Frank hates his job and indulges in an affair; April harbors dreams of becoming an actress and moving to Paris. And now there’s a trailer (a bootleg of which appeared last week) which suggests that, thanks to the aforementioned Deakins, Mendes has captured the look, and consequently some of the feel, of Yates’s particular breakdown of the American Dream, but I’m still worried about the soul. 

Layers of meta-text give the film a powerful sheen even before it begins to run: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunite for what could be the awful, final end run of their Titanic romance, while Mendes and his wife Winslet work together for the first time, with Winslet playing an aspiring actress of no great ability. (I’m not implying anything there about Winslet, by the way.) But the trailer emphasizes screwed-up eyes, tears, conflict and resolution more than anything else. How do you encapsulate two hours of pathos into a couple sales-ready minutes? Not like this.  

See the trailer at Yahoo. Revolutionary Road opens on December 26.