Here is my first review of 2016 for a film that was technically a 2015 release. Oh the irony.
Even so, The Revenant is a great film to open the new year. I’ve been waiting on this one all year. Behind the camera is the man who brought us 2014’s groundbreaking film Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu. For a leading man, we have Leonardo DiCaprio-who is quite possibly the finest actor of his generation. Together, these two names sound like a dream combination for a truly amazing film.
In addition to that, the film garnered positive word of mouth in it’s limited release at the end of December. Everyone is talking about how this film is among the top ranks of this year’s Oscar contenders.
And to top it all off, we got two amazing trailers for what looked like a really good movie. Those trailers did their job, all right, as The Revenant pulled an upset at the Friday box office and dethroned Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It now has a slight chance to be the reigning king of the weekend, long before The Force Awakens was thought to come down from the top seat.
So does The Revenant live up to the hype?
Yes, although I will say that this movie is not for everyone. While the trailers marketed this as an action packed revenge film, make no mistake-this is an Iñárritu film. That encompasses a couple of things: it will be a breathtaking visual film, and it will rely heavily on the meaning behind it’s story. This movie is not exactly what most people are expecting, if I had to guess. What this movie is, is a glorious visual masterpiece with pulse pounding action sequences; but it also contains a lot of silent stretches in which it is very meditative.
In more basic terms-it’s exciting, but it’s also super artsy. And if you’re not into those sort of movies that take their time, and have a more artistic flare than most; then you probably won’t walk out of this movie having loved it. I myself am a fan of deep, artistic movies when they are done well, as they can offer a really different movie going experience. I have watched Birdman probably three or four times since last year, so I am a fan of Iñárritu’s work; and I knew what I was getting into.
With all that out of the way, I really enjoyed this movie.
First of all, the visuals are simply incredible. The last time I saw a movie that was this visually groundbreaking was Birdman; and I have a hard time recalling any films before then that were equally groundbreaking. Iñárritu solidifies himself as the most innovative filmmaker working today, and I can easily see this film having a lasting impact on the next generation of filmmakers. There are so many shots my friend and I were scratching our heads over, and so many shots that left our jaws on the floor at the sheer majesty of what we saw on screen.
Iñárritu’s cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, deserves just as much praise. He works with nothing but natural light, and achieves one of the most visually beautiful pieces of cinema of the decade-and quite possibly of all time. For those of you who aren’t as educated on what goes into making a movie, let me just tell you that working with nothing but natural light is a feat in it’s own right. You always have lighting set ups when making movies, even in outdoor shots or city sequences. There is always some sort of manipulation of light to further your story. That Iñárritu and Lubezki not only chose to go with nothing but natural light, but also got the results they did is simply astounding. This is another element of the film that I can easily see becoming extremely influential-especially in the modern age of independent filmmaking with small cameras and guerrilla style productions.
What this camera movement allows for is a level of intensity that is seldom seen in movies; and if you’re not into intense movies, then this definitely isn’t one you should see. The violence in this movie is extremely well done, among the levels of Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan. There’s gore, but a realistic amount of gore. It’s certainly disturbing, but that works for the movie. It allows the stakes to be raised in a very natural way. Furthermore, the scenes where we find DiCaprio by himself are heightened by a camera that tracks him in a frantic but steady manner. We feel his sense of urgency, thanks to both the camera and an amazing performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.
With that transition, let’s talk about the leading man. I’ve seen most of the films that feature the performances many people are predicting will be at the Oscars. With that in mind, I’m easily pulling for DiCaprio to finally win the gold. His performance is so raw, and so real in so many different ways. His facial acting is incredible, but everything else is so good as well. His screaming, for instance, allows his pain to leap across the screen. You feel his agony. With very little dialogue, he creates a character that we can root for. Yes, he barely speaks throughout the runtime-and in many ways he capitalizes on this element of the story. The film itself suffers a bit, but I’ll touch on that later. Just know that Leonardo DiCaprio is widely considered one of the best for a reason, and he brings everything he has to this film. Right now, I’d say it’s a foot race between him and Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) to win the gold-and while I’d be fine with Fassbender, I’m rooting for Leo.
The supporting cast is also amazing. The most notable among them is definitely Tom Hardy as the antagonist of the story. He plays a villain that we so easily hate, yet so easily understand. In many cases, he steals the show. When he and DiCaprio are together in scenes, it’s simply a master class in acting. Expect him to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor, with a chance of him winning.
Also notable is Domhnall Gleeson as the leader of their company, and Will Poulter as a young man in their ranks. This is easily the best I’ve ever seen Poulter, and probably the best I’ve seen from Gleeson (who has had quite the break out year). The young man who plays DiCaprio’s son is really good, and sells the relationship that gives DiCaprio an unquenchable thirst for revenge when it is taken from him.
Despite all of these excellent elements, I did have one big issue with this movie. The runtime is around two hours and thirty minutes; and in all honesty, it should have just been two hours. There are segments in this film that came off as a bit unnecessary, although I totally see what Iñárritu was trying to do. We get a lot of scenes with DiCaprio alone and injured in the wilderness, in which we are being sold his despair. In some scenes it works brilliantly, and in others it doesn’t work as well. Amidst these sequences are visions, or dreams, that DiCaprio’s character is having as he struggles to survive. Again, some of them work brilliantly, and some of them just don’t make sense. The ones that don’t make sense are made even worse by an apparent attempt to be artistic, which comes off as somewhat pretentious as a result. In my opinion, if you had cut about half of these sequences out, then you would have had an overall better movie. Or better yet, they could’ve given DiCaprio some dialogue in his dreams/visions. He doesn’t speak in those, for continuity’s sake I suppose. Even so, there was an element of the first half of the film in which DiCaprio and his son speak to each other in an Indian language that I felt could have been further utilized in the dream sequences to make them better.
There is a point in the story where these moments come to an end, and it hits the ground running from there. The finale of this movie was great, and really left me with satisfaction. It pits our two main characters against each other in a setting where it’s just as much of a mind battle as it is a physical fight.
Overall, this movie was definitely unique. It’s exciting enough to keep you engaged, and it’s meditative enough to keep you thinking after you leave the theatre-just like Birdman was. And like Birdman, I want to watch this movie again. This is the type of film that will benefit from repeat viewings. In other words, “It’s a thinker!” And like I said at the beginning, it isn’t for everybody. If you aren’t into thinkers, then you probably won’t like this movie. If you’re willing to try to meet the film on an intellectual level, however, it’s definitely a unique cinematic experience.
That was a good time at the movies.