Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Review: The Revenant

Year: 2015 (U.K Release 2016)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Screenplay: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

Synopsis is here

If there’s one thing that The Revenant does well, it’s scream about how BIG it is. It wants people to know just how MASSIVE a movie it is. Just look at the scope, everyone! Look at the huge, vast plains that its characters trudge and crawl through. Observe the scale of the films set pieces! Feel how impressive it all is. The film and its creators are right. This is an admirably impressive piece from a technical viewpoint.

The Revenant also an unbelievably committed film. Most of the film's hype has been quick to note just how demanding principal photography was and just how dedicated the filmmaking became. A large scale production captured in freezing remote locations with short filming windows (Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot using natural light), the gruelling 9 month shoot was so challenging that crew members quit and producers were added to get everything back on track.
In watching the film, it’s clear that for all the struggle and strife, The Revenant looks the business. The actors are nearly shallowed completely by the surroundings and there is a true feeling of grandness to the imagery that is hard to dismiss.

When we take away the challenge of the shoot as well as the prettiness of the piece, The Revenant does very little to capture the soul. Its scant narrative leaves little to hold on to, yet its overlong running time seems to insist that the film has importance. The truth is The Revenant takes a long time to say very little. The film is impressive from a distance. Its bombastic sequences are definitely worth watching on the biggest screen possible, while the cast show full commitment at every turn.

However, in comparison to films such as Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) The Revenant lacks the chaotic constitution of man being lost to the all-encompassing power of nature. That's Herzog's area. Iñárritu is still all about the misery of it all than the absurdity. As with the likes of Biutiful (2010), The Revenant’s conventional revenge tale gets so wrapped in the pain of it all, that it becomes difficult to find compelling.  The Revenant just loves to yell about how painful the plight is.

The dedication from everyone involved is commendable, yet throughout the film feels uninvolving. Unfortunately, like Revolutionary Road (2008) this is one of those performances in Leo doesn’t want to be shown phoning it in. Far from it. The dial gets cranked up to eleven through every moment DiCaprio crawls, mumbles and grimaces. This is BIG acting, but it doesn’t distract you from the fact he’s laying it on quite thick. The fact that the elements made the performance a challenge, doesn’t mean that you must in turn love the display. Tom Hardy, as the film’s antagonist fairs better, with his bulging eyes and Jeff Bridges-like drawl. Both bring a certain intensity, but Hardy is given more to play with. A problem considering that this is a film built to show DiCaprio’s tactility.

We'd used to say a film would have every frame is like a painting. Now, the film, like The Revenant, they feel like HDR images. Despite the visceral "ugly" beauty of the visuals, the film seems stripped of the beastliness of its story. The Revenant lacks the transitional nature of a Western like Dead Man (1995) or the transgressive power of a revenge movie like Dead Man's Shoes (2004). The film’s final moments do little don’t reveal the pettiness of revenge, but instead left me feeling short changed. Looks and a contemptuous shoot make The Revenant and big screen curiosity, but don’t expect any devils in the details. This is a film in which everyone is screaming to hear their own echo.