Another characteristically subtle essay in dislocating musical ambiguity.
Michael Quinn 2009-01-23
Fans of Thomas Newman's evocatively haunting, minimalist-accented soundtracks will know what to expect from this fourth score for director Sam Mendes – another characteristically subtle essay in dislocating musical ambiguity.
Adapted from the acclaimed debut novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road captures the moment at which the WASP American dream began to turn sour even as the suburban idyll was at its apparent peak, and the damage the resulting fall-out wreaks on the marriage of a young and successful but restless and unsatisfied couple.
Most immediately apparent are the multiple echoes of Newman's first Mendes collaboration, the Oscar-nominated, BAFTA-winning American Beauty. But while the breathy ambient haze of plangent piano, unsettling strings and ticking high-hat cymbals – all yearning for unrealised crescendos before falling away into retreating minor-key cadences – skilfully maps out the fractured emotional terrain here, it also feels as if it is re-tracing the musical footprints of the earlier film.
What is new is the greater emphasis given to Newman's use of unconventional instrumental colours to offer vividly edgy, off-kilter detail. So jangling metallic effects, blurred piano chords pregnant with frustration, bloated bass lines, disembodied, drone-like textures and synthetic-sounding keening all combine to create an unsettling turbulence that threatens to break and fracture the surface calm. It's an effect underlined by Newman's signature way with jittery, uneven rhythms.
Illustrating a more profoundly uncertain era than the setting of American Beauty – the psychological toll of post-war austerity, McCarthy’s communist witchhunts, the threat of Cold War annihilation – Revolutionary Road is, appropriately enough, a less optimistic score. It veers away from certainty, definition and clarity to offer something more indistinct, troubling and ominous. But it also, and worryingly, runs the risk of repeating and diluting a winning formula. In that respect it counts as a disappointment.
Three bittersweet pop songs of the period – Count Every Star by The Ravens, The Orioles' Crying in the Chapel and, especially, The Gypsy by The Ink Spots – add their own poignant commentaries on the dystopian proceedings.