There are many reasons I may choose to review a movie, I may be a fan of the director’s previous work (Hateful 8 next week), It may be because it is the new cultural phenomenon (50 Shades) or it may just be because the producers had to clarify that “no, Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t get raped by a bear in the film.” (The Revenant)
Let me just get this out of the way, the film is technically very good, it’s clear that everybody in the production gave a shit and were giving 100%. It will probably win a whole slew of awards in the coming season, including the actor who according to the internet is well overdue for an Oscar. None of this however stopped me being bored for a great deal of The Revenant’s runtime. The main problem seems to be the pacing, every fifteen mins or so the movie stops so we can look at longshots of beautiful stark landscapes. Perhaps this was to give us time to reflect on the film’s wider insights into the human condition, the problem with that however is that there doesn’t seem to be any. Sure there is one metaphor that gets repeated to us about three times about how trees can withstand wind because their roots are strong, but this is about as deep and insightful as a 17 year old hippie from an affluent family telling you all about how ‘evil’ capitalism is. Perhaps there was a greater point to the film; I must have missed it while dozing off to the film’s boring score.
I was awoken from my daydream every twenty minutes or so by the odd spot of ultra-violence. This is one of the more violent mainstream films in recent memory; not only do heads and limbs fly off in battle but afterwards we are treated to pus filled wounds, bones protruding from lacerations and Leo screaming into the camera with blood and snot pouring from his nose. Toe curling and hard to watch to be sure, but this characterisation through brutalisation wears thin well before the two hour mark. Besides if all I wanted to see was extreme violence, I’d watch an Eli Roth movie or hang around Penrith train station in blackface.
Emmanuel Lubezki once again teams up with Alejandro G. Iñárritu acting as cinematographer, and once again this pairing pays off. The film looks beautiful from start to finish, the only complaint I have on the whole cinematography front is the overuse of long takes. Lubezki may be the master of long takes, but the more they are used the less special they become. Even Spectre opened with a long take tracking shot, and when even syphilitic alcoholics are ripping you off it’s probably time to innovate.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu always seems to include a gimmick in his films, in Birdman it was the apparent one take and in The Revenant it is the use of only natural lighting when filming. This is nice in theory, but in reality doesn’t add or subtract from the film overall. It seems to be included for the sake of contributing to the film’s mystique approaching Oscar season.
On that note, Birdman was a critical and financial success sweeping many awards from its modest 18 million dollar budget. This created enough goodwill between Iñárritu and the studio for them to greenlight The Revenant with a 60 million dollar budget. Iñárritu then pissed all this goodwill away, moving the production from Argentina to Canada, firing crewmembers that disagreed with him and ultimately blowing the budget to over 135 million dollars. This led to a unique film and certainly the most high profile auteur film in years. Unfortunately while being brilliant on a technical level the film fails to work as a cohesive whole. The end product feels like the twisted offspring of a documentary on the Canadian wilderness and the Saw films. For his haunting performance Tom Hardy should win his long overdue Oscar though.