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Movie Review: The Revenant

Posted By: Lawrence Napoli
02/12/2016 - 6:42pm

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“It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.”

A Film review of The Revenant

 

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu follows up last year’s award winning Birdman with co-writer Mark L. Smith to deliver The Revenant based in part on the novel written by Michael Punke.  Iñárritu dials up the drama, artistry and tragedy in this film which features an ever perilous march into oblivion with intense violence that was typical of fur trading expeditions on the harsh frontier of 1820s Americana.  This film is a revenge tale through and through as seemingly every force in the universe is beset against our protagonist, Hugh Glass.  Most of the film, in fact, is masochistic in taking an already beaten and broken man beyond all reasonable pain and survival thresholds which is either a testament to human willpower or to the defiance of unbridled rage.  Regardless of how the viewer sees it, the journey of this particular cinematic adventure is neither for the faint of heart, nor for those seeking an adrenaline induced thrill ride.

Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, The Revenant is a long film clocking in at 2 hours and 36 minutes, but it feels even longer what with its regular lulls in action so that the audience can fully appreciate Hugh Glass’s negative energy, isolation, desperation and declining hope.  The film does a great job at hooking the audience right away with spirited violence to be demonstrative in establishing the immediate danger of this environment.  Unfortunately, when the dust settles, so too does the pacing which sees sharp spikes occasionally for the remainder of the runtime.  I could forgive a film for such consistent meandering through depressing turns for the worse at every intersection provided all this pain gets paid off with a satisfying climax.  I will say that I was surprised … surprised that the climax wasn’t satisfying in the least and perhaps that is the moral of all revenge stories.  You think you’re taking revenge, but rather, it takes you to a different place if you allow it.  All things being equal, there have been better films featuring vengeance as a motivator/ultimate end, but where this film stands apart is in its cinematic beauty.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who also worked with Iñárritu on Birdman and Gravity takes an almost experimental approach to framing and capturing all the action in The Revenant.  Almost every scene is shot from a low angle and every character is framed with close-ups.  The camera gets right into the characters’ faces, right in the middle of the action, in between the bullets and the arrows and right over waterfalls.  Often times, such a strategy is used for the practicality of simply not having enough scenery to pull back and impress an audience with.  Not so in this film as the wintery wasteland of the Canadian wilderness just outside of Calgary gets just enough acknowledgement to the majesty of its mountains and the dominance of its desolation to remind viewers that the environment is just as menacing a foe to the hero as any other conscious opposition.  Lubezki uses a hybrid fisheye lens or digital effect to extract as much imagery from the environment in even the tightest of close-up shots.  Combined with dedicated camera work that gets just as tight on action sequences; this film offers an impressive array of eye candy without having to resort to pyrotechnics.

Action Style

What the pedestrian gunplay and fisticuffs lack in choreography and artistry, they almost make up for with brutality.  The combat is very average.

3/6

Action Frame

Dynamic framework!  Or perhaps this is simply different framework than one expects from a typical Hollywood drama.  The intimate frame never leaves the audience’s eye to wander even if the story allows our mind to do so.

5/5

Lead Performance

This film certainly features one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s finest efforts to date in pursuit of that ever elusive Academy Award.  If “lacking the ability to channel primal emotion” was a criticism to his acting, this film is a project he took on to directly challenge that notion.

5/6

Supporting Performance

Tom Hardy is a great actor who is to be commended for his enthusiasm in attempting several different vocal accents in the roles he plays, but I still can’t understand what he’s saying unless he speaks in his native accent.  Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter contribute nice little moments here and there.

3/5

Music

Was there even music in this film?  Of course there was, but it was purposely minimized and/or removed from sequences all together to demonstrate the power of nature’s sounds as well as the sound of silence.

2/6

Sound F/X

Functional during standard dialogue and action, but much more impressive when it’s Leo vs. the landscape and all he can do is hunker down and wait for storms to pass.

3/5

“Motion” = 21/33

Digital F/X

Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes it eats you.  Let’s just say the CGI that almost exclusively involves wildlife looks better up close than at any distance.

3/6

Special F/X

Very nuanced, but effective and more than just all the flintlock rifles shooting about.  Gore effectively splashes about from shredded bodies and Hugh Glass finds an interesting way to cauterize wounds with gunpowder.

4/5

Costumes

Another period piece, another fine job at costuming amongst frontiersmen mercs, formal military and Native Americans.  I’m not entirely sure if the functionality of some of the designs at work could provide enough insulation for traversing an environment as cold as what this film depicted.

4/6

Hair & Makeup

Scars, wounds and battle damage of all types are worn by our cast of characters as vibrantly as their costumes.

4/5

Exteriors

If you want cold, if you want isolation and if you want intimidation from your environment, apparently, you film in northern Canada.

5/6

Interiors

This being a wilderness tale, there aren’t many opportunities for interior shots of any kind.  The moments that called for interiors featured very base functionality and plain aesthetics of cabins and forts.

2/5

“Picture” = 22/33

Hook

So you’ve taken this job and it’s not the safest one in the safest environment and then things go wrong and keep going wrong to the point that you’ve just about lost everything?!

4/4

Conflict

Man versus nature, but not just the external one which presents a formidable opponent without question, but also his own nature, his instincts versus his intelligence.

4/4

Resolution

90% revenge journey 10% fizzle and fade.  My, oh my, we walked all this way for that?

1/4

Dialogue

Dialogue is not the primary disseminator of details.  Imagery, action and performance set all the tone an audience really needs while the dialogue fills in the dramatic gaps in a basic way.

3/6

Exposition

The structure and editing of this film work well in tandem with the scenes that are shot to lay out the world, circumstances and players of this story with enough information to make the journey.  Thankfully, we don’t need much more.

4/5

Character Uniqueness

One could write a book about the parallels between The Revenant and Dances With Wolves and it would begin with their main characters and their similarities.  Glass’ will to survive has been seen before, but it is the villainous Fitzgerald, his unpredictability and unyielding selfishness that brings out the worst in everyone around him and makes him a tad more interesting.

4/6

Character Relatability

Glass’ everyman’s status is not entitled at introduction, but rather imbued by fire through his relentless trials, losses, injuries and setbacks.  It is just as easy to identify with people that just want to get what’s owed to them and forget the rest of the world.

4/5

“Story” = 24/34

Overall MPS Rating: 67/100

All the talk regarding The Revenant is about DiCaprio and him finally winning his Academy Award.  Sometimes when a film gets such singular attention for any one of its marquee talents, chances are pretty good it will result in victory.  As much as this film is all about Leo and his abilities, there’s a whole hell of a lot of talented work being done around and besides him to make his position look even better.  I cannot say enough about the direction and the cinematography and I expect both to be strong contenders in these categories come the end of the month.  As far as best film overall, I’d say the writing and the story may hold this film back not because either lacked quality, but because this story has been done before.  Then again, Hollywood is the very definition of style trumping substance, so in that regard I wouldn’t be surprised if The Revenant took home the gold.

About The Author:

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Movie reviewer. Film school grad.
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