Skip to main content

He's afraid. He knows how far I came to find him.

The Revenant
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest Oscar contender is a gruelling, man-against-the-elements – and mauling grizzlies –  gore-fest, a technically astonishing piece of work with quite incredible cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki amid the blood, bile and phlegm. The Revenant also features a deeply committed performance from Oscar contender Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio. Such an adherent to his art is he, he even ingests, and regurgitates, a piece of raw bison liver. What the picture lacks, though, is a profound engagement in his character’s plight, a plight that extends from the visceral to the ridiculous as unfortunate incident after unfortunate incident piles upon him.


Indeed, on several occasions I wondered if I hadn’t wandered in on a slightly soberer, better lensed version of The Naked Gun, one focussing on O.J. Simpson’s hapless officer Nordberg, such is the crescendo of disaster that dogs Our Leo at every turn. Mauled and stamped on by an enormous animatronic bear (twice – how unlucky is that?), Leo’s shit-hot hunter Hugh Glass is left in a state of extreme disrepair and, with the Louisiana Purchase wilds ill-disposed towards his colleagues (he’s their tracker/guide), it’s decided to leave him to his inevitable demise. Glass’ Native American son (Forrest Goodluck), young lad Bridger (Will Poulter) and disreputable mercenary Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) stay behind to see him off and provide a decent burial. Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, however, Glass just won’t die, dammit, so the former takes it upon himself to curtail his suffering, at which point the son intervenes and Fitzgerald kills him. From whence, Glass is abandoned buried alive, Fitzgerald persuading a reluctant Poulter that the fearsome Arikira Indians are poised to descend upon them. Glass, of course, wants revenge for his dead son, and nothing’s going to stop him!


And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. Not an inability to walk (he’ll just drag himself across the wilderness), not an inability to breathe (he’ll just burn that gaping hole in his throat shut), not what must surely be a fatal case of blood poisoning (constantly sodden, all his wounds are infected in no time at all, as one might expect), not what one would reasonably expect to be the loss of any number of extremities through frostbite, not a series of encounters with the aforementioned scalp-happy Arikira (these include Leo surfing rapids – why not, it’s evidently the way to travel if you can’t walk – riding a horse off a cliff, and then embedding himself in said horse for a cosy night’s sleep, or a homage to The Empire Strikes Back, I’m not sure which). That Glass is a remarkably resilient fellow.


This is a basic, simple story, one with minimal dialogue for much of the proceedings (Glass can’t even speak for much of the time), and as such it’s a showcase for Iñárritu’s filmmaking prowess. Which is undeniably virtuoso, from the incredible brutal opening raid, in which the camera moves to and fro from attacker to attacked, staying with some characters until their sudden deaths, leaving others and returning to them, to Glass’s horrific bear bludgeoning, to his beyond-determined crawl, where you feel every clawed inch and reverberating cough.


But we don’t really have much investment in this character. We’re invested in him because Leo is playing him, not because we care about Glass. His love for his son is told rather than felt, no matter how many rather ham-fisted flashbacks Iñárritu provides (and lets not forget his rather risible embrace of the metaphysical, with Glass on the brink of death, hearing his dead wife’s voice, even seeing her floating above him in an unintentionally funny moment). Somewhere between this absence and the ludicrousness of Glass’ unfeasible survival, the picture began to lose me. While I was continually re-engaged whenever Iñárritu pulled out the stops with another giddily compelling sequence, I was left with that slightly distasteful feeling one gets from an especially gory horror movie, where the purpose is purely to gross the audience out rather than to relay an overarching idea or theme. Too often in The Revenant, it feels like Iñárritu’s craft is wagging the movie dog.


As the ostensible thematic content goes, though, despite delivering a prodigiously unlikeable character, one can see Fitzgerald’s point of view. Iñárritu has painted a harsh, inhospitable environment, and it would be more of a surprise to pay a second thought to leaving Our Leo to die when death is accustomed to delivering daily greetings cards and you have an entirely reasonable dread of being scalped again. Hardy fully embraces his character’s grungy self-preservation instinct along with a typically curious cadence, and Poulter and Gleeson are equally strong as the innocent and morally earnest leader respectively. As with the technical specs, this isn’t a picture one can fault for performances. Leo may have been more impressive in earlier roles, but one wouldn’t begrudge him what looks like an inevitable Oscar for his hirsute wilderness man.


Still, though, one is left wondering what Iñárritu really wanted to glean from this material, to immerse himself in such a slog of freezing entrails. If the point is an existential one, it’s rather lost in that, rather than finding resonant the pointlessness of Glass’ quest for revenge (which FItzgerald even goes and spells out right at the end; it didn’t need two and a half hours of etching it in the landscape to then have it wrapped in a bow, compounded by its dovetailing with the parallel revenge plot of the Arikira chief rescuing his daughter; it’s so neat, it’s an OCD nightmare), one is left shrugging. Was it worth eating all that bison liver and getting hypothermic? Well, it makes for good dinner party tales and awards acceptance speeches.


And surely, if the idea was to hone Glass’ quest down to its essentials (a bit like a mangled version of Walker in Point Blank), the encumbrances of his wife and son would have been discarded at the script stage (so aligning the film more closely to the account of the real Glass); for all that The Revenant presents an unretconned vision of its Arikara antagonists, you can be quite sure Glass’ family situation comes from exactly that process of nervousness over depiction and content, such that he’s a thoroughly tolerant, modern-thinking man (bar his festering bent for vengeance) and is even helped by Arthur RedCloud’s friendly Pawnee (Kevin Costner would be proud).


I liked Birdman, albeit I don’t think it deserved Best Picture Oscar, but I liked the ensemble and found it frequently very funny. Probably the latter aspect ensured its philosophical pretensions didn’t become a drag (indeed, it seemed quite self-aware in that regard). Here there’s no such insulation. Iñárritu has fashioned an endurance test for audience (it’s loooong) and his actors, and appears to be striving for something affecting and profound, but he’s no Terrence Malick, for whom the relationship between the searching soul and the profundity of the natural world are second nature. On The Revenant’s evidence, Iñárritu doesn’t really have anything he passionately wants to say, so we end up with an amazing piece of filmmaking it’s difficult to care much about.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .