The Revenant (Alejandro G. Inarittu, 2016)
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.
Not so long ago, I watched for the first time Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man and its description of the kill of Timothy Threadwell and his girlfriend iced my blood. So to actually watch a bear attack I was more or less afraid to have nightmares adding to the fact that it was reported that it was a particularly violent scene. Well, it is but it is fiction and its depiction was not as bad on me as I thought.
As stated, it is a film and it was the thing that constantly popped into my head when I was viewing The Revenant : a fiction. Even if as the promo says it is based on a true story, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) probably did not lived all these adventures and it was based on his experience. However, the whole plot of revenge is the motivation that director Alejandro G. Inarittu decided to exploit for his main character. The survival side of the film is a bit sensational and I think that at times, the telling of the story got in the way while they were shooting the film. In fact, it looks like a film that was difficult to make and the freezing, the pain, the ice cold water of the river, etc. reminded us how it was a tremendous journey. But, a difficult shooting doesn’t mean for a great film or outstanding performances per se.
As Hollywood has been struggling just like North Americans with their representation of the Natives in North America since the early Westerns. It seems as if Hollywood is forced to showcase how Americans and French-Canadians were god-awful to them. However, the representation of Toussaint as a Native lyncher and rapist has provoked reactions from French-Canadians. Once again, Hollywood wants to beg pardon for the many years of its depiction of the Indians. But writers must feel obliged to be historically accurate since it is now easier than ever to get documented and it is not because you want to please a certain group that you have to get another mad. But here I digress and this is the Historian in me that has many stomach pains.
Another aspect of The Revenant that got on my nerves is the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, aka the man who wants his goddamn Oscar. Since the obvious snub of Titanic, many of his films had him nominated for Best Actor (The Aviator, Blood Diamond, The Wolf of Wall Street, and of course The Revenant) but he won none. Once again, despite the long hairs, long beard, scars, blood, etc. the character of a man who lost everything and is tormented by his past gives another classic Leo role. A character he is doing all his tricks again and again. Like a performer you can’t stand and that is as good as anyone wants to shout out loud, I think that DiCaprio doesn’t deserve the Academy Award just because it was a difficult shooting and that he froze his ass or got injured. Just like when they give Humphrey Bogart’s Oscar because they used real leeches in The Asphalt Jungle, this is just one side of the whole thing. DiCaprio will get his Academy Award win when he’ll be ready to appear weak, out of his means, and as chameleonic as Michael Fassbender can be.
In the director’s chair, Mexican wunderkind Alejandro G. Inarittu did another ambitious project one year after his success of Birdman, a film that is far superior in story than The Revenant. It is crystal clear that The Revenant is an outstanding directing task and to hold a somewhat long film with sure hands and this mastery it is an important achievement. However, the weakest link is the plot and a bit of tighter editing in the story could have save the film from falling after the first act. The pacing is also a bit disjointed and I think that it doesn’t help the film to get to the last scenes and its epic finale.
On the technical side of things, director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, Gravity, Birdman) did another masterful contribution to the film world. Not as groundbreaking as The Tree of Life, which was a revelation for me but his long shots and his camera movement give such a natural aspect to the action sequences and such a scale to the epic scenery that it make The Revenant a visual delight.
My opinion of The Revenant has evolved since my viewing and as much as the technical side of the film are impressing and how it is masterfully crafted, I can not pass over the fact that it is pretty weak on the screenplay side. It also annoy me that it was a film that was destined to win a plethora of golden statuettes and I grew of loathing these kinds of films. It is a good film, great, that only time will tell but it got many of us into some sorts of discussions and this is habitually a good sign and in this case it is a film that will leave a mark for many of its viewers.