Why you should see the new film The Revenant from prestigious Mexican Director Alejandro González Iñárritu: non-stop, wide “Holy shit” snowy vistas, frenzied and desperate wilderness survival worthy of Bear Grylls, the performance that finally earns Leo his Best Actor Oscar. Why you should not see The Revenant: – …nope, I’ve got nothing.
Iñárritu’s Babel is one of my favourite films of all time as I really liked his interlinked but totally worldwide take on the parallel-storyline style of film which I believe was done best by Altman and is still hugely popular in mainstream media, see Game of Thrones. I’ve seen all his feature films and love each for their own reasons and after having seen many eclectic interviews with the man I can’t help admire his desire to push boundaries with films he wants to make.
Following this trend and backed by a staggering $140,000,000 budget Iñárritu was able to take a crew into chilling Canadian forest for almost a year; a crew including Hollywood’s most prestigious actor and push him to his absolute limits – with every grimace and groan being framed, blocked and breathtakingly back-dropped by his long-time partner in cinema magic Emmanuel Lubezki, cinematographer extraordinaire. What’s more, the film was in early development long before Birdman but due to Leo getting Wolf of Wall Street the shooting was delayed.
The film opens with a breath-taking opening 5-10 minute battle. A tribal group of “Pawnee” Natives attack a company of rugged scouts out hunting animals for their pelts for use domestically or for trading. Among the fur traders are Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-Native son Hawk; blows are exchanged between the groups with arrows and primitive guns firing everywhere and eventually after many die Hugh, Son and Friends escape by boat. Later while out hunting alone, Hugh stumbles across a bear and its cub and is subsequently mauled to shreds in a gruesome scene straight out of Herzog’s imagination when he listened to that tape in Grizzly Man. Once discovered barely alive, settlement leader Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson), muscleman John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and co. attempt to rescue what seems like a lost cause of a man. With some doubting Hugh’s chances a suggestion is made to put an end to Hugh’s pain with hot lead to the obvious disapproval of Hawk; what happens next sparks a blind urge for achieving some of the deepest, most satisfying revenge ever put to film.
The standard plot a revenge movie is we learn the motivation early on, usually in our protagonist, who we’re supposed to side with even though they’ll likely commit a heinous act – an idea dissected wonderfully in Anatomy of a Murder. Then we usually watch the traps fall; the net tighten in various ways; the eyes of the enemy widen in panic, it’s often quite sadistic but weirdly enjoyable (See Dead Man’s Shoes or I Saw The Devil). Finally, the pay-off where we learn how revenge is the filmic equivalent of the dietary mantra “Moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips” cos’ boy is it sweet but damn will it cost you. Build-up and pay-off, it works so well with revenge films.
The Revenant follows suit as it should with its own quirks which is what makes it great. It’s not perfect, I think Tom Hardy putting a voice on made his strong performance frequently intelligible and though beautifully capturing Leo trudging through the barren landscape on camera harbours the theme that a man can go forever if necessary I think excessive use here led to too much meandering.
The majority of the film is one man’s survival against the elements and Leo clearly throws his heart and soul into his performance. It was awesome to hear during this year’s Director’s round table of the bi-directional learning and working actor and director with the latter describing the former as more of a filmmaker than an actor which with a man as experienced as Leo (23 years since Gilbert Grape!) is apt, he’s literally seen it all. He acts Hugh’s burning rage powerfully which lets the audience see and feel all the hits he takes on his journey toward absolution.
Some might call The Revenant grotesque and an indulgent, unnecessary foray into dangerous and reactionary emotions we humans shouldn’t be proud of. They’d be right, enjoy it.
8.6/10 with ice.