Dear Mr. Mendes,
Please don’t do it. I understand the temptation. Believe me, I do. But I also know that you are embarking on a doomed mission. You are going to fail. I’m certain of that, and that is why I’m writing you this letter, to help you to see the light. Though if you’ve already gotten this far, I worry that you can’t be saved. But I must try anyway.
Why on earth, in 2007, would you even attempt to bring Richard Yates’ REVOLUTIONARY ROAD to the big screen? What are you thinking? Do you realize how ridiculous and wrong this concept is? Do you realize that it isn’t just arrogant and idiotic, that it is an outright sin? I don’t even know where to begin.
Let’s begin with your casting of two of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. In doing this, you are automatically cheapening your film’s impact. For no matter how brilliant a performance Mr. DiCaprio and Mrs. Mendes give, we will always be watching Mr. DiCaprio and Mrs. Mendes. We will NEVER be able to truly suspend our disbelief to the point where we will receive the earth-shaking stomach punch that Yates’ book delivers. At best, it will be reactions like, “Wow, Leonardo DiCaprio is doing a good impression of a troubled guy in the 1950s,” or, “Kate Winslet sure knows how to deliver a believable American accent.” There will ALWAYS be the recognition, however unconsciously, that we are watching modern movie stars playing characters set in the 1950s. And if you populate the rest of your cast with recognizable faces (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Shep Campbell, for instance), your impact will be degraded that much further. Again, I understand your temptation, for these are fine actors indeed, but I am telling you that by turning REVOLUTIONARY ROAD into a Hollywood spectacle, you are making a mockery of one of the greatest novels ever written. Can’t you see that?
I can’t fault Mr. DiCaprio, because I can see him grinning at the thought of fucking with viewers all over the world, following up “the most successful Hollywood romance ever” with The Most Depressing Hollywood Romance Ever. The thought of being so subversive is a giddy one indeed. But that’s all well and good in theory. In reality, the trick won’t work.
Mr. Mendes, I am not clairvoyant, but I mean it when I say that I have already seen your movie, and while it is ‘impeccably executed’ on a superficial level, it is missing the one thing that matters: the book’s nearly unbearable HEART and SOUL. You hired the best costume designer, the best production designer, the best cinematographer, the best composer, the best everything. You recreated post-war 1950s Connecticut (and Manhattan) as well as it could be recreated. You’ve chosen the right scenes to include, and your film will have the air of nobility and Academy-worthy professionalism. But you will not have come close to capturing the novel’s breathtaking, tragic impact. As an intelligent human being, you must realize that it is impossible to translate that impact to the big screen. It is IMPOSSIBLE. So why are you doing it, then? Oh yeah, I know why.
You are making REVOLUTIONARY ROAD to win an Oscar. That is your foremost reason for taking this suicidal plunge. It has nothing to do with respecting Mr. Yates’ momentous vision, for if you did respect that vision, you wouldn’t shamelessly rape it into an embarrassing stab at Oscar glory. How do I know this? I saw ROAD TO PERDITION, Mr. Mendes. You can’t fool me. That pointless exercise in ‘crafting an instant classic’ was the most shameless, down-on-your-knees pleading to the Academy that I have ever seen. And that’s all this movie will be, an embarrassing stab at Oscar glory, one that will fail miserably because we will be able to sense that in every single frame. Your movie will NEVER capture that feeling of true helplessness, true loss, a feeling that the biggest budget in the world cannot buy. Your movie will NOT capture even one tiny fraction of Richard Yates’ immeasurable genius. You’re good at your job, Mr. Mendes, but you’re no Richard Yates.
Another thing I don’t understand is that if you are trying to do absolute justice to REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, don’t you realize that nobody will want to see it? There’s a reason that only a select few humans have heard of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. That’s because it is honest and unflinching in a way that most movies/books/records never are. It is a PAINFUL experience, Mr. Mendes. Audiences don’t want to see painful. They want to escape from the reality of their hopeless, tragic predicaments, and if you try to show them just how hopeless and fleeting their lives are, as Mr. Yates so relentlessly did, they will turn their heads and run far, far away. Not to mention the fact that this is a period piece, set in the 1950s. This film has everything going against it, yet your pride and ego has distorted you into thinking that these are all the attributes that will lead to sweeping success on Oscar night. Shame on you.
I won’t even find the space in my brain to consider that you might soften Yates’ vision, but suffice to say, if you do try to back off in the third act and loosen the gears instead of tightening them into a breath-swallowing noose, the next time I see you in person I will punch you in the face. This movie should have viewers alternating between waves of tears and vomit. I don’t see how it’s possible that you will be able to dig beneath the gloss of your corny Hollywood veneer to even elicit even one tiny tear.
We’re not just talking about my favorite book here, Mr. Mendes. We are talking about one of the most honest, perfect works of art of the 20th Century. Do you realize the sin you are about to commit? I don’t care what God you believe in, or even if you don’t, but the world recognizes sins, and you will be punished for yours. You aren’t going to win Best Picture, Sam. Admit that to yourself right now.
That said, I would love to be sitting here in a year-and-a-half, writing a formal letter of apology. I would love to see you prove me wrong. But you CAN’T prove me wrong. I have already seen your film, and it is a towering failure in every possible way. Some books should remain books. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is one of them. This movie will be a parody of all that is noble and decent in art. You will be putting the last nail in the coffin of true, lasting art, and for what? To win an Oscar? Look at what happened with ROAD TO PERDITION. Audiences can smell desperation. Even the Academy can smell it. You will fail, Mr. Mendes, and you will be taking Richard Yates down with you. Make another movie, please. There are still lots of stories left to tell. Just don’t tell this one.
One final note: For those of you who have never read REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, please, I beg of you, DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE BEFORE YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK. When you read the book, you will understand what I am talking about, and you will hopefully join me in boycotting the film. Or see it if you want, but don’t see it before you’ve read the book. That said, go out now--RIGHT NOW--and buy REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. Perhaps this whole debacle will bring Richard Yates some much-deserved attention after decades of anonymity, but if it means people seeing a crappy adaptation of his work without having read it on their own, well, that’s even worse. So do yourself a favor, read this book before it’s too late.