Blood lost. Life found.
Alejandro González Iñárritu cemented his place in the Hollywood film scene last year with his tremendous undertaking Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). After sweeping the 2015 Oscars he did not waste a moment and immediately dove into his next project, The Revenant, which has garnered him an equal amount of love this awards season.
The simplest way to describe the film without spoiling any aspect of the plot would be to say The Revenant is about one man’s physical, spiritual and emotional journey to survive against the unlikeliest of circumstances. Set in the blisteringly cold woodlands in the 1820s, a frontiersman named Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) lead an American expedition for animal pelts led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). When they come under attack by Native Americans, their mission is abruptly cut short as they flee for the sake of saving their own lives. Barely far enough to rest, their significantly smaller group suffers a painful blow and Glass is viciously attacked by a tremendous bear. What follows are several difficult decisions of will and morality at a time when the savagery of men was a commonality.
The Revenant is reminiscent of an unveiled western, removing the shiny artificial nostalgia that clouds the truth of the time. Mark Smith and Iñárritu’s narrative is one you will recognize if you are a fan of films of that era, the difference between the two is The Revenant does not attempt to mislead audiences into believing in the blindly naïve good guy versus bad guy dichotomy when it was inevitably a grey-er time. So how can such a simple story stand apart so easily as the prestigious front runner of the Academy Awards? The answer is equally as simple, with amazing cinematography and superior techniques in direction.
Ask anyone what they thought of the film and their first comment will be how beautiful the film is, this is true of someone who is 27 and also of someone who is 95 (trust us on this one, we did the research). They speak the truth; the landscape and cinematography are beautiful in the purest form of the word. Have you ever been some place so breathtaking that you refused to take a picture because it wouldn’t do it justice? The Revenant captures that awe-inspiring beauty that eludes so many of us. Emmanuel Lubezki truly out did himself with this piece and solidifies his position as one of the best cinematographers of the age.
The direction is also impressive but not nearly as flawless though it is in its technique. Iñárritu’s use of movement and his fluidity for transitions and cuts is revolutionary, especially in the beginning of the film. Alejandro has a vision through the camera lens and uses it as a point of view for the onlooker and as a complement to the character’s line of sight, yielding a complex and multidimensional direction. And yet, despite these achievements, the film felt lacking at its completion. We’re aware of the secondary component of symbolism, still, the film did not feel whole. Fantastic, wonderful, but missing that intangible spark that forces a film to resonate with you and leaves you blissfully satisfied. Further, while beautiful to watch, the film was unnecessarily two and a half hours long when it truly did not have to be and did not bring together its fragments despite its length.
Watching the film, it is impossible to be so engaged in the film that you forget you are watching a story played by actors, partially due to the brutal natural conditions. The environmental factors these actors endured are some of the most extreme any artist could encounter, especially for DiCaprio, but does that alone warrant the level of commendation the film has been receiving? The actors do a fine job but their characters are not unique and their performances not mind blowing, though Tom Hardy’s performance is certainly the standout of the film. Yes, their trust and faith in their director and to the material is admirable, as is their commitment to braving these conditions for the sake of art but where is the line drawn?
Hopefully, this criticism is not mistaken for disdain because the film is a powerhouse, but it has very tangible weaknesses that detract from the overall experience. Bloody and beautiful but an unremarkable narrative except in its brutality.
The Revenant – Movie Review