Monday, January 25, 2016

OVP: The Revenant (2015)

Film: The Revenant (2015)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Oscar History: 12 nominations/3 wins (Best Picture, Director*, Actor-Leonardo DiCaprio*, Supporting Actor-Tom Hardy, Cinematography*, Costume Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Production Design)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Prior to Birdman, I had never loved or even liked the films of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.  I admittedly haven't seen all of them (Amores Perros in particular stands out to me as a film that I need to see, and with the OVP I almost certainly will), but his films felt like they were grounded in an oddly grim position.  They usually portrayed suffering, which is true of almost all dramatic film, but the suffering felt pointless and like a black hole on the screen, constantly sucking the joy out of the lives of anyone on screen and making it seem closer to torture for the audience than anything else.  Birdman was a wonderful respite from that.  Yes, we saw people with broken, battered lives and existences, but there was an artistry in the way his camera moved and the depression felt like it was for something other than just sadness.  It made me hopeful for what would happen next in AGI's career, and considering both Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy have been two of my favorites over the past decade, I was cautiously optimistic and in love with the trailer for The Revenant.

(Spoilers Ahead) Sadly, though, we are back to the AGI that creates tortured souls and pointless violence, as The Revenant was a failure in my opinion.  I know that the film has been gripped tightly by fanboys across the country and everyone is ecstatic that Leo is finally going to win his Oscar, but for me the film left more than a lot to be desired.  For starters, the character development in the film is bad.  Not poor, not missing, but bad, as we see little of our main character Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and what drives him other than a primal instinct to avenge his own flesh-and-blood, as he seems to care little for his boy when he is living.

The film can try to cover under the blanket of hyper-masculinity and claim that we don't hear much from Glass because he's "not that kind of guy" but that seems like a bit of a cop-out, particularly since his visions are narrating the film and AGI/Leo want him to be the sort of man who will seek out revenge against the traitor who wronged his son, and who continually is haunted by visions of his wife in his dreams.  It's more a tactic that the filmmaker doesn't want to take away from the brutality of what is being seen onscreen, and that is indeed horrifying.  We frequently have heard (ad nauseam, in my opinion) about the rigors of the shoot, and while I'm sure it was tough, I'm from Minnesota and we sort of raise eyebrows at someone, especially a giant movie star, getting lavished with praise for enduring hours of bitter cold as we call such an experience 'January.'  The film is constantly trying to make us look at what may be the most disgusting, vile things a person will have to do to stay alive alone and broken in the wilderness (the scene with Hugh Glass gutting a horse so he can sleep in it Tauntaun-style in particular stands out), but it doesn't really make for great cinema or great artistry or great acting.  It just looks like something that an actor had to endure under a director.  And let's face it-qualitatively, The Revenant is hardly Apocalypse Now.

This devotion to accuracy occasionally pays off (the camerawork from Emmanuel Lubezki is impressive and, particularly at dusk, staggeringly beautiful), but it feels more Man vs. Nature without any sort of emotional grounding in it.  This is why the best scene of the film is the sequence where Leo is literally forced to deal with nature in the form of a gigantic grizzly bear, as this is unavoidable and does get to the primal fear thing that AGI is trying to get across the entire film (it's easily the scariest scene I saw all year on a movie screen, not least of which because I used to regularly walk through woods that had bears in them as a child and this was kind of my worst nightmare).  The rest of the movie we never get an answer to the question of "Why?"  Not why he would survive, but what was the tug that was so intense that he was willing to throw his life in danger a thousand times in pursuit of a man who killed a son that he seemed to give little thought toward up until that point.  I just am not buying it, and I don't like it when filmmakers cut corners by assuming we will get the "because he's a man and he's his son" angle even if it runs counter to the actual character we're seeing onscreen.  DiCaprio will surely win an Oscar for this performance, but it's a sad day that he's going to take it, after wonderful work in pictures like Titanic and The Aviator and Catch Me If You Can, for something that spends so much time covering his vulnerability and emotional yearning, the two things that set DiCaprio apart in a major way as a great actor of his generation.  However, the internet has demanded it, and he's going to get his reward.  I just wish I could say the same as someone who had hoped that we'd see something great continue to churn out from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Those are my thoughts on the film-how about yours (I know I'm in the minority here, so feel free to defend or commiserate in the comments)?  I didn't talk about Tom Hardy here (I think he's better than Leo, but still not Oscar-worthy)-anyone want to chime in on him?  Let's hear it!

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