Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Revenant -- Movie Review

Photo: from the film's Wikipedia site

Very gripping, in-your-face film with fine performances and great directing and cinematography. The setting is really the main character of the film, and there are long stretches of it, with little action or dialogue, so you'd better like it. I did, like I do watching Terrence Malick films, but if you don't, this film may be an ordeal for you. (It's supposed to be an ordeal, but more on that later.) This scenery does for beautiful negativity what Malick's does for gorgeous serenity. It's all supposed to be taking place in the northern climes of the Louisiana Purchase in 1823, though most of it was actually shot in the Canadian Rockies and in Argentina. But I'm gonna call it the Arctic, 'cause that's sure what it seemed like to me. Unless you're an expert hiker and really know your landscapes, it'll seem that way to you, too.

There are so many shots of snow, trees, rivers and streams that it'll either strike you with awe or with annoyance. These shots are supposed to be metaphysical; yet they're also supposed to nail the point home that this is a beautiful, but desolate and unbelievably harsh landscape. The movie is more about survival in this setting than it is about revenge or anything else.

In no particular order, DiCaprio's Hugh Glass has to survive the greed of his fellow trappers; the anger and desperation of Native American tribes (three of them are mentioned in this movie); the unlawfulness of French trappers and traders (which includes murder, kidnapping and rape); the freezing temperatures; the blizzards and snow; starvation and dehydration.

And, oh yeah--that bear.

Photo: Hugh Glass (or an 1800s James Cromwell?) and DiCaprio, from The Telegraph's article of the real Hugh Glass

This is not a film for the squeamish, though the bear attack was not as bloody and brutal as we've heard. (Or maybe I'm just battle hardened.) More disconcerting is the frequent brutality of many forms. You know how in most movies guys get one bullet to the head or one stab in the chest and that's it, they're done? Not so here. And violent things happen to CGI bears, bear cubs, moose, elk and wild dogs, too. And a horse, from that cliff clip we've all seen, when Leo and Horse go over. And Leo uses that horse like Han Solo did to another creature in Jedi, but even more so here. Yuck!

And it's all very realistically written, acted and directed. If you've seen last year's Best Picture winner, Birdman (and if you haven't, you should), then you know that Innaritu--last year's Best Director--really likes close-ups. And I mean, close. So much so, so often, that the frozen wilderness will seem claustrophobic, though it's all open space and wide expanses. But the camera is right on these guys. Not in their face, exactly, but closely above them, or beside them, or under them. There aren't too many distant shots of these actors. If they're on screen, they're taking up the whole screen. So be ready for that you-are-there feeling that this type of direction generates. You'll feel like you're in the Arctic with them--and you'll feel like you can't wait to get the hell out of there. An interesting achievement, that: You'll be glued to the screen (no small feat, since it's over two and a half hours long), but you'll be so overwhelmed by the brutality and the conditions that you want to be able to leave. I got the feeling, somewhat, that I was trapped.

Which was the director's goal, of course, and he succeeds. The film is an ordeal, and I mean that in a positive way. You suffer along with everyone--and everyone does suffer. This movie is about suffering and survival, and it does not have a solid, clear, winning ending. Consider yourself warned.

Photo: The director, Alejandro Inarritu, and Leonardo DiCaprio, from the same Telegraph article

DiCaprio deserves his nomination, and I'm not sure I saw a better leading performance this year. I don't mean that negatively, but nobody has stood out for me in terms of an obvious win at Oscar-time. I suppose DiCaprio is that guy.

Tom Hardy also deserves his nomination, as did Mark Rylance, whose performance I liked a little bit better. He didn't have the conditions to play off of, as Hardy does, and he says a lot more than Hardy does. (Tom Hardy, since his performance as Bane, seems to have specialized in roles that require minimal verbosity. He says more here than he does in Mad Max, but not by much.) I still feel Benecio del Toro deserved an Oscar nomination for Sicario, which itself was also not nominated. His was the best supporting performance I've seen this year. It's hard, as I mentioned in another entry, to compare his performance to Rylance's, because they're so different: his is exceptionally harsh and cold, and Rylance's is very powerfully quiet and nuanced. But del Toro's role and Tom Hardy's role are actually quite similar--though Hardy evoked quite a bit of Tom Berenger in Platoon for me here--and they both play guys who are cold and evil to the core, and who don't change. This was a nice change, by the way. Hardy says some very memorable things at the end of Revenant that you may not soon forget.

So go see this film if all of the above sounds like your cup of tea. Speaking of that, you will want something hot to drink after you see this, because the surroundings are so much the main character of this film that you will feel like you've just spent two and a half hours in the frozen, bloody Arctic.

P.S.--I always sit through the credits, so here I saw a name I haven't seen since the early-80s: Lukas Haas. Can you guess the movie? He was the little boy with Harrison Ford in Witness. Yeah, my mind works like that--I didn't even have to look it up. It hit me in the theatre. It's an illness.


  1. With a running time of 2 hours and 36 minutes I never once looked at my watch. That's how I know I was really wrapped up in this movie. I agree the close up shows helped the audience feel the cold and gripping pain. At times I found it a bit hard to believe Hugh Glass could survived that entire ordeal with such little food and medicine, but I suppose it's possible. My favorite line in the film is when he says he wasn't afraid of dying because he had already died. I think death would have been preferable over such horrific conditions.

    Overall I enjoyed the film, but it's not something I'd watch over and over. DiCaprio's performance was memorable mainly because he said so much with his eyes and facial expressions than actual dialogue.

    This is slightly off topic, but I was hoping The Revenant would be the top movie at the box office this weekend. Sadly it was Ride Along 2 which is pretty much a garbage sequel to a garbage movie. Why would anyone pay movie ticket prices to see such an unfunny immature flick instead of having a cinematic experience with The Revenant? It's just sad.

  2. My favorite line is when Tom Hardy's character is dying, yet says that Glass can enjoy his revenge as much as he wants, but it's still not going to bring his boy back. A real b@st@rd, right to the end!

    My only answer to your last question is that some people go to the movies to escape misery, not to be reminded of it.

    1. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy's character) made no apologies and had no regrets even during his last breaths. That's the mark of a true villain.

      That's an interesting response because I would find watching a movie like Ride Along 2 to be far more miserable experience than The Revenant. But that's me.

    2. That's me, too. But I tend to escape into reality, not away from it.