Friday, January 8

REVIEW: The Revenant

Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu
2015 Western
1 hour 56 minutes
From 20th Century Fox

Leonardo DiCaprio
Tom Hardy
Will Poulter
Domhnall Gleeson
Forrest Goodluck
Lukas Haas

No film from last year was I looking more forward to than this one.  Combining a western with a survival tale, filmed in my beloved Canadian Rockies with two actors I so admire and directed by last year's Oscar-winning best director (Birdman) seemed like a no-brainer.  So why not four stars?   We'll get to it.

The story concerns a trapper and his Indian son on a fur trading expedition with some others in the dead of a mountain winter in the 1820s.  At one point the man is mauled by a bear and although his fellow travelers initially care for him, they ultimately abandon him because taking him along proves too arduous and they are convinced he won't survive anyway.  But survive he does and the remainder of the film concerns him going after the man he considers to be most responsible for leaving him to die.  (Revenant is a person who returns from the dead or after a lengthy absence.)

Perhaps I was hoping that the beauty of the Calgary, Canmore and Kananaskis (Alberta) areas would spill out for me as they had in Brokeback Mountain but I neglected the wintery aspect here.  It was not the same.  The filmmakers did succeed in making me feel cold and this was one dreary, dreary movie to watch.  That's not to say there wasn't a beautiful shot or two but by and large it was white, wet, muddy, slippery and treacherous with an emphasis on one physical hardship after another. 

The chief reason I knocked this down from what I suspected would be four stars is because I found it all a bit tedious.  I was in no way bored out of my skull but I soon tired of watching him trying to light a fire night after night, endless shots of him sleeping, seeing tree branches blowing in the wind and streams flowing.  Some of this could have been suggested.  I think most of us caught on way back at the beginning. 

By and large, the main character doesn't speak.  Most of the dialogue comes from the bad guys when the story switches to see what they're up to.  When we're with the main character, it's simply observing how he survives.  When he falls over a mountainside, I am interested.  But all the minutia leads me to the T-word (tedious).
In lieu of the main character's speaking, there are the mysterious voices espousing Indian mysticism and I confess this is a plot device I've never much cottoned to.  Hokey.

I know many of you, particularly DiCaprio fans, may stay away because of the expected carnage and your distaste for it.  Well, hold on.  I'm not sure there was any of that, although maybe I am just immune to it at this point.  The bear scene, of course, would be the roughest and while it certainly is something to behold, it is not one of gore and limbs flying about.  I am sure the bear and I would agree it was done tastefully.  One can only imagine how Quentin Tarantino would have handled this scene.

With all of the aforementioned now out in the open, let's not think I didn't enjoy this film because I surely did.  I don't recall too many westerns I snubbed my nose at.  Big outdoor adventures with good guys and bad guys and someone pursuing the other is just where I'd direct my horse to go.  Add some marauding Indians and I won't even leave to refill my popcorn.  The tender relationship between father and son is touching especially as it is played out against the backdrop of hostility. 

One day when the elder DiCaprio writes his autobiography, when he mentions The Revenant, he is likely to capitalize on this shoot.  Despite the fact that his warm trailer, some hot apple cider and a nubile young thing were probably waiting for him just 20 feet out of the camera's eye and even allowing for stuntmen in certain scenes, he no doubt found it grueling location work.  They all must have.  

This is not DiCaprio's best work but that is not to say it is anything he need apologize for.  Sometimes actors have to rely heavily upon facial expressions and he convinced me.  I feel the same about the entire cast.  Damn good work guys... am just not sure we need to sing anyone's acting praises as though they haven't been better before.  Hardy, that man of a thousand faces, is virtually unrecognizable, and I feel the same about his work here as I do the others.  Historically, actors have rarely won Oscars for westerns.

You trivia buffs may know that this movie reunites DiCaprio, Hardy and Lukas Haas from Inception (2010). 

Likewise, I think Iñárritu's work in Birdman was more compelling.  Since The Revenant is nothing like Birdman, I am inclined to think the director is far from being stuck in any one genre.  I suspect there must have been some troubling aspects to deal with in making a big outdoor film.  The enormity of it all is impressive.

The music was dramatic and most suitable as events unfolded.   Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bryce Dessner and Carsten Nicolai made it feel epic.

In some ways this is more of an endurance test than a film... for the characters and for the audience.  The story is cruel and punishing and unforgiving as it had to have been for mountain men, trappers and other adventurers of the time.  There is a sense of history here that keeps me fascinated with tales of the American west.

Next posting:
The Love Goddess
(Who was she?)

1 comment:

  1. Like the Movie Man, I do like those man against nature, white man vs. Indian, struggle for survival tales. This was that on steroids...with major savagery to boot.
    I can't imagine this was a fun shoot. It looked pretty tough to me even knowing Hollywood's masterful knack for creating illusion. The fights, the bear attack and the brutal winter depicted were top notch in my opinion. And those trappers! What a nasty lot of scumbags. I think some of them have relatives still living in North Carolina today.
    In my opinion, the tedious interludes were exactly the point...a long and repetitive attempt to survive that could have gone off the rails at any moment for any reason/event. Those voices, given the character's squaw wife, half-breed son and empathy with the Indians, were part of his survival mantra to keep on chugging.
    Glad to see Leo win at the Globes though I didn't see his competition do their thing.