THE REVENANT (2015) - MOVIE REVIEW
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant is an exercise in cinematic brutality, an "allegory" of loneliness and survival, and perhaps, above all, a constantly juxtaposing love letter and death wish to the wilderness. Nothing in the film’s manner and presentation suggest a morality of human nature, or nature itself, and yet Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning camerawork captured on the newly released ALEXA 65 digital camera is absolutely gorgeous; some say it is among the greatest-looking films they’ve ever seen, and it’s difficult not to agree, though Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin still has my favorite look of 2015. It is certainly off-putting that a film that is ostensibly a revenge-drama-action film is shot like The Tree of Life, and yet one can't help but watch in awe as each frame is spliced together. This film is being reviewed after a second watch, and though certainly more flaws appeared on my revisit, those lens captures were still brilliant and the true highlight of the film.
But the real buzz around this film surrounds Leonardo DiCaprio, who will likely snag his first Oscar this year for his honest and fashionably rugged portrayal of frontiersman Hugh Glass. Picture Jack Dawson’s final moments in Titanic, trying to catch a breath while muttering few words, and consider that style being used for 150-or-so minutes wherein DiCaprio speaks here and there but mostly grunts. And it’s quite tedious, to say the least. It's not a staple of 21st-century acting, and it really feels like all of the excitement of his performance is from what he had to do (like climbing inside a horse carcass, which I proclaim to be the most creative use of a tauntaun since 1980), versus how good his performance actually was. His character’s taciturn presence leads to a very disappointing performance from DiCaprio, and it’s some of his most unfashionable work. Will Poulter and Tom Hardy, however, make for excellent supporting roles, playing two of Glass’s companions who ultimately are thrown into the wrong situation.
The use of sound here is immersive; the crashing waves, the bear hugs (I was waiting for DiCaprio to take the bear home for a 2015 Harry and the Hendersons), the crushing of leaves and twigs through the endless forests of the frontier. The music is a little overbearing, and seems like a hint of Hans Zimmer’s deafening scores, despite the film probably having more emotional ground without music at all -- it disrupts the realism and naturalistic sentiment nearly entirely, leaving the viewer astonished at why Iñárritu would even bother insert music to the piece at all. Inarritu’s one-take gimmick allows for very, very impressive sequences that are meticulously directed as hell (e.g., the opening battle) but it overall feels more like a gimmick coming fresh off of Iñárritu’s Birdman, 2014’s critical darling and a major success that was undoubtedly how the filmmakers got Arnon Milchan to produce such a film like The Revenant.
The film is now cast as the Oscar king, with an incredible twelve nominations to boast. While The Revenant did absolutely trounce the other films under serious consideration, there is a definite reason it wasn't nominated for one major award in Adapted Screenplay. The general public believes this is because the dialogue is slim and that the screenplay is underwritten; I disagree. This is a fine example of an overwritten screenplay. You had a better chance of winning that multi-billion dollar powerball earlier this month than you will finding deep subtlety in The Revenant. It goes from a sign with the carving “On est tous des savages” (literally we are all savages) engraved into it, to Hugh Glass writing into deep snow within a cave an important plotpoint that drives his revenge, that the audience clearly knows but needs to be informed of halfway through the journey to comprehend the continuation of DiCaprio’s “getting in carcass”-like inclination.
And lastly, I come to the major complaint most people have with the film: the metaphorical imagery and symbolism. I actually have zero issues with this symbolism, but I am quite annoyed by what it is trying to emulate within its presentation. It's trying ridiculously hard to be Malickian (that is, in the style of director Terrence Malick), and actually comes into effect at times, but really only near the ending, which I profess is very impressive.
Overall, I am not very sure where I stand with The Revenant. On one hand, I was pretty invigorated by the photography, the supporting performances, and different sects of the narrative for the entire 150 minutes, and was surely entertained. On the other hand, I rolled my eyes from the back of their socket down my body multiple times. The Revenant is more than the sum of its parts, I'd like to believe, but it's a story of man and survival that really pulls the audience towards life and death, something that the film is too unfamiliar with thematically to spontaneously include just when we are vulnerable to how debonair Leonardo DiCaprio looks in a thick pelt coat.
"The Best Films of 2015" coming Sunday, January 24th.
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comments on the screen by nolan lampson.