Overview: Leonardo DiCaprio goes hard for an Oscar (again) in Iñárritu’s survivalist, revenge, and quasi-spiritual follow up to his Oscar winning movie. 20th Century Fox; 2015; Rated R; 156 minutes.
The Expected Virtue of Alejandro González Iñárritu: The much discussed bear scene is one of the best directed sequences of the year. Rivaling the vitriol of the infamous Kingsman church scene, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass is nearly torn to shreds as he physically bests a bear in mortal combat. If that sounds like your type of action, you’re in for a real treat. Here’s the film’s kicker: that’s the best scene in the movie. The Revenant ignores the pain from the kicker and sucker punches you. The film continuously sucker punches you until all your body knows is bruises. Red, blue, and purple covers you from head to toe. It doesn’t matter. The Revenant wants to beat into you how serious it is. After you’re beaten to a bloody pulp you’ll want to know the point of it all. I’m not sure anybody can really hold on to a point while witnessing all of the brutal assaults on Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s important for characters to be put through the ringer so the audience can see what they’re made of. But here, it’s all the movie knows how to do. That’s what it is made of. Violence and brutality in place of a thesis statement.
The Beauty in Brutality: In what should have been a monumental approach to depicting authenticity, Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use only practical lighting in the film. As one of the few positive aspects, the natural light brings weight to images without purpose. Imagery is striking and beckons us to acknowledge the harsh conditions and experiences for two and a half hours, but not much else beyond that. It leaves an impression of disturbing grit and realism that can’t be ignored. But movies don’t get points for being realistic. Here, the photographic excellence marries itself to the the film’s investigation of humanity reduced to its most raw, animalistic tendencies, before flowing into the same unformed idea that maybe revenge is not a nice thing.
Make Like a Tree…: Looking back at the picture, it lends itself to unintentional comedy. You know those tired sitcom jokes about arthouse cinema being pointless imagery in the name of false art? The Revenant single-handedly gives that joke enough ammunition for the remainder of my lifetime. It’s as though Inarritu was inspired by Terrence Malick’s gorgeous filmography and began speaking on behalf of subjects of vengeance and spirituality without having the ability to tie them together in any meaningful fashion. It is the 2015 cinematic epitome of “apropos of nothing.”
The Oscar Talk: Leonardo DiCaprio will most likely be nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. He’s certainly a good fit for the role, but sadly the role doesn’t require much beyond grunting and staring with passion. On behalf of everyone who watches this movie, I want to take this time to apologize to DiCaprio for the extent of bullshit he endured. It still doesn’t mean he deserves a statue for this, not that he has or will ever require one to convince us of his enormous talents. On the flip side, Tom Hardy is allowed to grunt and exert brutish mumbles far more than DiCaprio. His grunts are excellent but he’s saddled with dialogue which, script-wise, must have come with asterisks at the end of each excerpt saying “*This is the villain of the movie.” You can rest knowing he grumbled far better in Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Truth: Iñárritu often discusses some “truth” behind the filmmaking process. I’m not sure he knows what this truth is. His movies consistently force an epidemic of elitist sensibilities, positioning themselves as a higher power than traditional filmmaking. When you look at individual pieces of the film’s construction, it’s hard to deny hard work went into the production, and for that I applaud the cast and crew. I cannot in good conscience claim this movie succeeds in being more than a slog determined to prove how much nature is terrible, man is savage, and revenge is bad. This is also noting how occasional images and story beats may or may not contradict those elements, all the while never fully acclimating into anything more valuable than technical precision. The entire production could be considered a massive, tragic misfire. Is the film about man vs. nature? The Revenant emboldens itself as a look at revenge but adds nothing to the conversation. A movie doesn’t need to break new ground to be a worthy piece of art, but it should at least have the decency to make one or two points that work together to form a cohesive whole.
Overall: The Revenant is an aggravating exercise in posterity, proclaiming itself as a work of importance.