The Revenant is Overrated

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Revenant

“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

gallery2-gallery-imageFor 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.

Dicaprio Oscar

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34 thoughts on “The Revenant is Overrated

  1. Really sad to see your review of this not being the film The Golden Globes awards led me to believe it was. Since I like historical dramas , I’ll probably see it anyway. Cinematography from trailer does look impressive.

  2. Just posted my review as well. I think I had a much better experience with it. For me it was so much better than the pretentious Birdman. I do see where some of your feelings come from. Any several ways you felt about this the way I did The Hateful Eight! 🙂

  3. I haven’t seen it but I’ve been reading more and more dissenting opinion about this one. I kind of feel the same way about Macbeth which was beautiful but tedious, so I think that one was overrated as well after its premiere at Cannes. Hardy is a terrific actor and it seems that his character is actually more intriguing than Leo’s.

  4. I have read the script and I did find it riveting when it comes to Fitzgerald. I was astounded seeing reviews when he is refereed to as one-dimensional villain. i don’t know how Hardy plays this on screen but it was evident to me when I read the script that he left Glass for reasons bigger than heartlessness – paranoia and him himself being mad – and for a good reason – and his survival instinct kicking in. I thought that the script was very well written but I guess it depends how they did all of that on screen.

  5. Nice review, Courtney! Though I’ll say, I disagree and agree – there isn’t much to Hugh or the other characters to make them meatier; but I found that the film wasn’t supposed to do that – if it makes sense. We’re supposed to experience the struggle and vengeance in a visceral way more than a character study. I thought Domhnall and William offered underrated performances, who were sympathetic and a happy medium between Glass and Fitzgerald. DiCaprio and Hardy really rated too. On that behalf, I really loved it. But, I did notice that after the bear mauling, everyone in my theater checked out. It did wonders for me. 🙂

  6. Great review Courtney! Although I like this movie more than you do. But I get what you mean about the ending. It leaves much to be desired. On a happier note, Tom Hardy got nominated for an Oscar under supporting actor.:)

  7. I really liked it. But I do understand where you’re coming from. I thought just simply depicting the struggle to survive was enough to make for a compelling movie. Always nice to see another perspective :))

  8. I understand a lot of you reservations about the movie and I think its fair to say that this one isnt for everyone, but I was just completely blown away by it. Loved it immensely.

  9. Pingback: “The Revenant” & “Mustang” (2015) | Ma Armastan Filme - Mart Raun - Filmiblogi

  10. I enjoyed it. It’s definitely one of the best films of the year, but not as great as everyone is saying and a little overrated. The storyline is so so (pretty simple), but the cinematography was spectacular.

  11. For me, it’s the experience that won almost everything. Not a really great movie, but it’s a movie I’d like to remember for years to come, especially for Inarritu’s pretentious directing and Lubezki’s cinematography. Fabulous review, though!

  12. Just watched it today. Movie is total crap. Boring story and cinematography which at first kind of impressing, very quickly turns into amateur photographer discovers wide angle lens. They did great job on the trailer, movie however is very bad. After first 40 minutes I couldn’t wait until it was over.

  13. I agree with your review, thank goodness there´s someone who is not blown away from the hype that is sorrounding this movie!
    I was blown away by “Biutiful” (too underrated!) and “Birdman”, as well as Inaritzu previous filmography.
    In “Revenant” (a part from your very good point of lack of depth) i also don´t see the novelty: not only i found AGI´s previous two movies already going through the various cinematographic innovations, but at multiple stages i felt like being in a Terrence Malick movie, with the emotional drags that don´t work when the character is so thin.
    Moreover the story itself was so predictable: was it all the anticipation, or i already knew everything that was going to happen? Or maybe this very themes were already on “Dancing with wolves” and “Last of Mohicans”?

  14. I loved the natural lighting and Leo’s acting but things did start to get slow for me. The score disappointed me and I could barely understand a word of Tom Hardy’s southern drawl. Good review!

    ❤ The Dude Crew from reeldudereviews.com

  15. I think it was overrated as well. I really didn’t even like the movie that much. I haven’t liked many of Leo’s movies actually. I don’t know if it just his acting either. I think Tom Hardy is very good though. I loved the newest Mad Max movie. I also liked Child 44. But a lot of people like Leo’s acting. I respect that. But to me Tom Cruise or Johnny Deep just have a way of making a film better. I don’t see that with Leo. That may be why they tend to overrate the movies he’s in.

  16. I love this movie. I guess it’s not for everyone. I don’t agree that it lacks depth. For me this was a great movie with great acting and I am glad DiCaprio got the Oscar he so richly deserved. The majority of those who saw it were glued to the screen and for long stretches of the movie DiCaprio carried it by himself. Hardys character had more dialogue and exposition but DiCaprio was the one who carried it, and he carried it without the tools other actors depend on, such as the use of his voice (exposition) and the use of other actors to react off. (acting is reacting and reacting off another actor).

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