First of all, I’d like to give a special shout-out to the old man who talked to himself non-stop as I and many others were watching this movie. I am confident in saying that the only reasons none of us told him off are (a) his mumblings were a little too unsettling to be dealt with in a dark theater and (b) we were all too comfortable to get up.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Okay, The Revenant. It’s a goddamn Oscar-bait movie is what it is. Aside from Leo winning Best Actor, which definitely should happen because he was that good and the meme needs to stop, nothing about this movie makes it the best of the year. Alejandro Iñárritu, stand down. Birdman got you your golden statue, and deservedly so.
The Revenant almost seems hastily done, churned out under the wire for Oscars season. There’s a lot of dubbing, for example, since some of the movie is in Pawnee, and it’s painfully obvious. Iñárritu is so much better than that, and yet he didn’t bother. The camera work, too, doesn’t quite align with the tone of the movie. See, The Revenant is meant to be a gritty recollection of the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and how he survived in the wilderness after his fellow campers — instigated by trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) — leave him for dead post-bear-mauling. “Gritty” is a stupid, overused word, but it gets my point across. And my point is that we’re not supposed to be focused on the camera at all — we’re supposed to be looking at Glass and the aforementioned wilderness. We do sometimes, as when Iñárritu gives the full, wide screen to small, still images of insignificant weeds and gorgeous frozen leaves — which are enhanced by Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s striking, stark score. But he also over-stylizes the movie by letting blood splatter, water droplets, fog and sun spots remain on the lens. It’s too hyper-aesthetic, and it screams pretentious. Again, Iñárritu’s better than that.
Speaking of pretentious, Hardy ripped out a few pages from the Christian Bale school of acting here. He adopted some kind of overly-country-Western accent for his role as Fitzgerald, and it distracted from his otherwise complex, strong performance as that villain. Since we weren’t given too many details about the when- and whereabouts of the movie, the variance in accents really stood out, especially because Leo didn’t take one on noticeably and because he and Hardy had a number of scenes together.
Leo, though. The man knows how to give all of himself, especially physically, to his work. I imagine filming The Revenant was a different experience than he was used to, since the number of lines decreased substantially and he could really hone that physicality into something incredible, which he did. There’s the now-infamous bear scene, of course, which is a cinematic achievement for all involved, but the real wonder is in how he sustained the intensity for the whole, freezing-cold duration of it. (And, for that matter, how the real Glass survived at all.) The scene that stood out most to me is one in which Glass hollows out a dead horse and uses its carcass as shelter for the night. Seeing something as revelatory as that made me realize that we don’t even remotely think that way anymore as a society. The skills that Glass had are all but extinct today. We can be thankful for technology, sure, but at the expense of that kind of life-saving improvisation.
I’m sure that scene grossed some people out. And I’m sure some people had issues with the violence. I didn’t, though I did voice my distaste for the violence in Hateful 8, and I’ve been wrestling with why that dichotomy exists in my brain. I think I accept the violence in The Revenant because it actually happened, it was necessary, and it was the opposite of glorified. If you were to learn only one shallow thing from this movie, it would be, “Don’t get lost in the wilderness by yourself, dumbass.” Though the natural world was stunning at times, and it served as an essential, all-encompassing resource for Glass’ survival, it was also the enemy. Glass was David, everything around him was Goliath, and somehow he prevailed.
By the anticlimactic end of the movie, which was long enough, I actually wanted to know more about what happened to the real Glass. The relationship established between Glass and his half-native son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), felt unfinished. I craved more background, perhaps to make the spiritual elements of the movie seem less cheesy, and to make Hawk more of a fully-realized person rather than a symbolic drive for Glass’ survival and vengeance against Fitzgerald. I think Iñárritu missed an opportunity to center the story with more emotional depth.
Bottom line? Best Actor, not Best Picture. Plain and simple. Let’s get to the show already!