Sam Mendes won 1999’s best director Oscar for his first film, American Beauty.
Extraordinarily, he has not been nominated for this powerful drama which is far superior.
Nor has Kate Winslet been rewarded with a best actress nomination. This is equally strange because her portrayal of April Wheeler, a wife and mother whose dream life in 1950s American suburbia turns into a nightmare, is well worthy of an Academy Award.
Justin Haythe’s fine adaptation of Richard Yates’s much-admired novel has April and her salesman husband Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaving the city, moving to suburban Connecticut, and raising two children.
Then their lives start to sour, with April constantly bickering and Frank embarking on an office affair, and they realise they are trapped in the conventional straitjacket they had determined to avoid.
But a way of escape appears when April suggests she will support the family financially if they all “move to Paris and save ourselves”.
While other key characters make significant impacts, notably friendly estate agent Kathy Bates and her clinically insane son John (Oscar nominee Michael Shannon), the film belongs to its stars, in their first teaming since Titanic.
Despite at times appearing unnervingly baby-faced, in a major acting triumph DiCaprio brilliantly delineates his not very likeable character. It is certainly not his fault that he is overshadowed by Winslet’s deeply affecting performance, which comes from an great actress plainly at the peak of her powers.
Mendes’s movie has its drawbacks, — the infrequent appearances of the Wheelers’ two children is one of them — but they do not detract from this disturbing, hypnotic and utterly unmissable drama.