Friday, January 29, 2016

Revenant, The (2015)

Review #1,259






THE SCOOP
Director:  Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast:   Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson
Plot:  A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

Genre:  Adventure / Drama 
Awards:  Won 3 Oscars - Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Cinematography.  Nom. for 9 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing.
Runtime:  156min
Rating:  M18 for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.
Distributor:  20th Century Fox

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight.  You breathe... keep breathing.”

With The Revenant to add to his lauded filmography, one can make a convincing claim that the Oscar-winning Mexican director Alejandro G. Inarritu is one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers working today.  It is a visually astonishing film to behold, but my reaction to it is measured.  It’s like seeing a beautiful painting, but you don’t respond excitedly.  Instead, you let it absorb, feel its essence.  After a bit of time, you start to think: how do I want to respond to the film? 

It’s an easy film to hate or wax lyrical about, but such extreme reactions don’t quite go into the heart of the matter – that the film is as breathtaking as it is spare, and perhaps that’s why it is a great film, but not a masterwork, or that it is pretentious but well-intentioned in its approach and execution.

Inarritu reteams with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who continues to give us incredible work year after year.  Shot on location in the isolated wilderness and in natural light, The Revenant sees the cast and crew sacrificing earthly comforts in the name of art in the wintry and rocky locations of Argentina, Canada and the US. 

This is a film about the exterior: a vast inhospitable landscape that would overwhelm Man.  It is also about the interior: Man’s primal desire to survive.  No one encapsulates this tension between the physical and the psychological better than Leonardo DiCaprio, who gives a tour-de-force performance as Hugh Glass, a frontiersman on the hunt for fur, but left for dead by his team after a horrific grizzly bear mauling.  Surely now, finally an Oscar for Leo?

In what could be one of the most visceral and elemental of screen experiences of the last few years, The Revenant is truly made for the big screen, not just visually, but aurally.  There are so much intricacies to the film’s sound design, which also includes a remarkably ambient, at times percussive, score by the great Ryuichi Sakamoto (of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) and The Last Emperor (1987) fame). 

It’s a real pity that Sakamoto was denied what would have been a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Original Score… well because, according to the (ridiculous) Academy, he worked with two other composers, Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner.  The film’s most riveting moments come in the climax, where Sakamoto is at the height of his powers, raising the dramatic stakes with the astounding use of percussion that reminds of John Barry’s ‘Pawnee Attack’ cue from Dances with Wolves (1990).

But what pins down The Revenant from achieving true greatness is not its sparseness, but its spare-ness.  It doesn’t have a particularly engrossing screenplay – dialogue seems perfunctory rather than trying to move the narrative.  It is also lacking in affect – any portrayal of emotions of warmth and love by DiCaprio is often overshadowed by his character’s sheer will and tenacity to survive.  The film’s philosophical leanings (as if Inarritu is trying to channel Terrence Malick) don’t quite work too. 

But don’t let these flaws affect you because while The Revenant could have been a tighter and less ponderous affair, it is a miracle of filmmaking that such bold, uncompromising forms of art are still being realized by visionary directors today.  They may not care about what you and I think of their work, but they care about the epistemology of cinema, not just what it can do, but what it can be.

Verdict:  A visceral and elemental tale of survival and revenge by Team Inarritu-Lubezki, fronted by a physical, tour-de-force performance by DiCaprio.

GRADE: A- 






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