So I watched The Revenant…
Have you ever ordered a meal at a really fancy restaurant? You’re assured that it’s a five-star meal, prepared by one of the world’s finest chefs; but then you put it in your mouth and catch yourself wondering whether there’s a McDonald’s nearby so you can get some proper food. The fancy restaurant’s food is technically better – made with more skill and finer ingredients but it often isn’t as fun as regular food. That’s the feeling that ‘Oscar’ movies bring about in me. More often than not, they’re wonderfully made films that showcase amazing technique from the director to the actors to everyone involved in the filmmaking process; but they also tend to be amazingly boring, as this film often is.
Okay, basic plot: While on an expedition hunting for pelts, a hunting party – led by Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) – is attacked by a group of Native Americans. The hunting party loses several of its members and is forced to retreat on a boat down a nearby river. Its scout – Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) – suggests that the best course of action is to traverse inland to avoid the hostile Native Americans; this angers John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a boisterous member of the party who thinks they should remain on the boat and follow the river. The party decides to travel inland with Glass travelling just ahead of them to scout out the area. On one of his scouting trips, Glass encounters a grizzly bear which savagely attacks him – almost killing him. Badly injured, Glass is unable to walk and has to be carried the rest of the journey. This slows the party down and it soon becomes clear that he needs to be killed for the rest of the party to survive. Fitzgerald, unsurprisingly, is the biggest advocate for Glass’ death and offers to stay back – with Glass’ son,Hawk – and wait for him to die naturally while the rest of the party pushes forward. Fitzgerald grows impatient waiting for Glass’ death and decides to take matters into his own hands. Hawk attempts to stop him murdering his father but Fitzgerald kills him and leaves Glass for dead. Glass doesn’t die though and embarks on a perilous journey across the American wilderness to find his son’s killer and exact revenge.
This movie is wonderfully made. It has an amazing, visceral feel to it and it feels like it’s actually happening right in front of you. Cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki does a beautiful job capturing the rich landscapes and breathtaking scenery that this film has to offer. This film is – visually – a tall glass of water and it’s refreshing and captivating to drink in. The look of this movie is authentic and mostly free of CGI so it feels very real. Alejandro G. Iñárritu does a (mostly) fantastic job in the director’s chair. Coming off his success with Birdman, he once again incorporates long, flowing shots into his storytelling and the movie really benefits from this. The lack of cuts between scenes allows you to follow the action completely and blurs the line between observer and participant. You feel like your head is the one turning and not just the camera. There are also a lot of tight, close-up shots so you feel very close to the character s and action. Unfortunately, these overly-tight shots are used far too much in the film. There were several times when I wanted the camera to zoom out so that I could see everything and gain my bearings.
So in terms of filmmaking technique, this film is – for the most part – a triumph. Now before I talk about the acting, I’d like to talk about what I didn’t like about this movie because I think it’ll add some necessary context to my views on the acting. This movie is boring. Not because the events that transpire on screen aren’t thrilling but rather because, for large sections of the film, there are no events. There are literally pieces of nothing in this film. Yes, there are characters on screen and they’re performing actions but the actions they’re performing – while necessary to the plot – aren’t worth seeing. The best way to explain it would be to compare this film to a cooking show. The chef shows you how to prepare the various ingredients, assembles them in a pan and then puts them in the oven to cook. The show cuts away and when it returns, we see the chef pulling the pan out of the oven with the food fully cooked. You don’t need to actually see the food cooking because – while the cooking is essential to the final meal – it isn’t worth seeing. The Revenant shows you the actual time the pan stood in the oven. So technically something is happening because the food is cooking but, in reality, nothing is happening.
The middle of this movie is completely irrelevant and I’m not joking when I say that this film needed to be an hour shorter. There were audible moans and groans from the audience members around me as we waited for something to happen. This film features a powerful story but it’s an empty one. The basic premise of this movie is revenge but, unfortunately, the only real obstacle between Glass and his vengeance is distance. So we spend the majority of this movie watching Leondardo DiCaprio’s character move from Point A to Point B. Yes, he faces a few vague challenges along the way but it isn’t exciting enough to justify this movie’s elongated runtime. This film also spends far too much time on establishing shots. The film feels like it’s full of itself and displays these grand images – which are worth sharing – but focuses on them far longer than necessary.
Now for the acting – it really is top-notch. DiCaprio and Hardy put in engaging and riveting performances that are truly entertaining to watch. Problem is that because there are so many stretches of ‘nothing’ in this film, the two actors actually end up doing a lot of nothing. This film needed more dialogue and robust scenes where the actors in it could showcase their talent. I’ve heard several stories about how grueling this film was to shoot but are we really going to give out Oscars for crawling in the snow? Is that what an Oscar is worth nowadays? In truth, I don’t think either actor deserved to be nominated. This isn’t because they don’t produce quality performances; but rather because there aren’t enough opportunities to display that quality in this film. Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter also impressed me with their supporting roles in this film.
This film reminded me a lot of Jurassic World; in that, both films have interesting beginnings and conclusions but the middle is quite dull. Also both films have SPECTACULAR fight scenes in their conclusions. There’s a battle between DiCaprio and Hardy at the end of this film that is one of the best fight scenes I’ve ever seen on film. It’s so awesome that it almost makes up for the boring middle this film makes you endure.
Overall, The Revenant is a great advertisement for the elaborate and complex technique involved in making a film; but sadly not the enjoyment that goes into watching it. Its story is empty and often filled with tangentials that add nothing to the main plot. It needed to be an hour shorter or filled with more exciting elements. It’s an ‘Oscar’ movie so while I didn’t enjoy watching it, I have to applaud it because it’s well made. The best way to enjoy this movie is at the cinema because of the visuals but it is as boring as it is well-made. 7/10