“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.”
God giveth, God taketh away. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu wants you to know that, and he’ll give you a 2.5 hour exploration of Leonardo Dicaprio’s endurance to prove it.
While it’s undeniably beautiful to behold on screen, and the passion of the Leo is as unbearable to watch as it is to believe, The Revenant’s (its title referring to someone returning from the dead) uninspired script left me wanting something deeper than a hollow man vs. man and man vs. nature epic. There just isn’t enough meat to chew on here or at least enough for me to really care about.
Screenwriter and director Alejandro González Iñárritu gave us Babel, Biutiful and last year’s Academy Award winner, Birdman. He co-wrote this loose adaptation of Michael Punke’s 2002 historical novel The Revenant with Mark L. Smith. The story’s set in 1823, focusing on a true-life character, frontiersman and tracker Hugh Glass.
Based on true events is always an enticing grab in trailers, and survivalist Hugh Glass is a great example of American resilience. Likewise, bearing the icy frozen rivers, sleeping in animal carcasses and eating raw bison liver on a regular basis (Yes, he did, folks), I guess we can say Leonardo DiCaprio has become a symbol of Hollywood film-making resilience, and the feats actors will undergo to make a movie as real as possible.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t floored by the visual feast Inarritu and his long-time cinematographer achieved on screen. The Revenant was photographed by the remarkable Emmanuel Lubezki, who fully deserved his back-to-back Oscars for his work on Gravity and Birdman. He’s the master of capturing the raw beauty of natural lighting. The first half of the movie, especially the opening sequence, was gripping. Then, as Leonardo DiCaprio crawls across miles and miles of that surreal scenery filmed in Canada, Montana and Argentina, and it kind of just implodes into nothing much else.
“The comparison to Inarritu’s previous film is an important one to make, for the reason that Birdman feels like more than just a technical exercise. Strip away the showy camerawork, and you still have characters and ideas that are actually worth caring about. The Revenant, on the other hand, has neither. As you might have gathered, the narrative is pretty thin – but that wouldn’t be an issue if we could get behind the characters. DiCaprio, to his credit, gives it everything he’s got, wheezing, snarling, screaming and putting his body through the ringer. It’s exactly the kind of performance that Academy voters love, and to a certain extent it’s easy to see why. But again, there’s a difference between what’s bold and what’s actually interested. As hard as DiCaprio tries, he never succeeds in making Glass anything other than a one-dimensional protagonist, who we’re meant to root for simply because the screenwriters put him through hell. The borderline insane Fitzgerald proves a little more interesting – and like DiCaprio, Hardy commits fully to the role, reaching yet again into his seemingly bottomless bag of absolutely baffling accents. In the end though, Glass and Fitzgerald are just archetypes – a goody and a baddy destined to hack one another to pieces. Because the duality of man. Or something.” via Concrete Playground
For a film that erupted in it’s first trailer as something truly visionary, why couldn’t Inarritu give us meatier characters? The true MVP of the film is Tom Hardy whose character begs us to ask more questions and want to know more. His ferocity gives us more emotion toward what’s happening on screen than Leo’s character could ever elicit. For me, this wasn’t Leo’s best performance; maybe his best physical performance, but it’s hard to give a damn about his character because of what he lacks in substance. We’re given a few snippets of flashbacks of love lost, family lost, ultimate misery from the character’s past, but not enough connection to really feel the torture of what Glass is going through outside of seeing it through the physical brutality of nature.
“Hardship is an easy thing to depict on film, but hardship in service of something meaningful to the butts in front of the screen is more of a challenge. 12 Years a Slave is a recent film that pulled it off with flying colors. How? It showed us who its lead character was before injustice befell him. That contrast added impossibly high stakes to his story and allowed the viewer to connect to the story on an emotional level — to put himself or herself in the sufferer’s shoes.” via John Likes Movies
This movie will certainly come ringing during Oscar season, but as The Skinny words it: “In the final stretches of the film we are supposed to feel the presence of God, but as DiCaprio’s desperate breathing fogs up the camera, we only feel the presence of the director. For Alejandro González Iñárritu, maybe that amounts to the same thing.