Friday, February 26, 2016

Movie Review: "The Revenant"

During the Oscars this coming Sunday night, Leonardo DiCaprio is expected to finally win an Oscar for his role in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's The Revenant, and both the film and Iñárritu himself are considered leading contenders for Best Picture and Best Director awards as well.

While I believe that DiCaprio's win is as much a payback for his previous Oscar-worthy performances (this is the Oscars, after all) and an acknowledgment of how harrowing it was to make this movie, I will be tremendously disappointed if either the film or the director wins an Oscar. To say the very least.

The Revenant takes place in the 1820s (a fact I had to research, since the movie itself never divulges where or when it takes place) in the midst of the burgeoning fur trade, where battles between Americans, the Indians, and the French were commonplace. An expedition of American frontiersman, which includes scout Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), is trying to gather as many pelts as they can, although they're not making as much progress as one member of their group, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, sounding a bit like Mushmouth from Fat Albert, yet with a Southern accent), would like.

Early one morning, Glass is scouting nearby where his group has settled in for the night when disaster strikes—in the form of a very angry, protective bear. Glass is repeatedly mauled and tries to fight the bear off any way he can. The attack leaves him (no pun intended) barely alive, but he fights for survival. The group needs to move on, but the captain (Domhnall Gleason) wants to do the honorable thing and not leave him behind to die. Hawk and a friend, Bridger (Will Poulter), agree to stay behind, as does Fitzgerald, more because money is offered to sweeten the deal.

Almost immediately after the remainder of the group leaves, Fitzgerald is ready for Glass to die, either by natural causes or by his own hand. And after several days of watching Glass' condition worsen (SPOILER ALERT if you've not seen any of the trailers for this film), Fitzgerald kills Hawk and buries Glass alive, convincing Bridger that Hawk disappeared and Glass died, and the two head to meet up with their group.

The movie then shifts into revenge mode, as Glass, barely breathing and torn to shreds by the bear, digs himself out of the grave and nurses himself back to enough strength to try and track Fitzgerald down. On the way he encounters more crises, survives a blizzard by sleeping inside the carcass of a dead horse (I thought Luke Skywalker did this better in The Empire Strikes Back), and deals with Indians and unsavory French fur trappers before the inevitable showdown.

I saw someone refer to this film as "a much longer Road Runner/Wiley Coyote cartoon," because Glass is able to keep on his path of revenge even after surviving a bear attack, pneumonia, and various other injuries and accidents. Along the way he is buoyed by memories of Hawk and Hawk's mother, and these spur him on despite his severely weakened condition.

This movie is beautifully filmed, and I understand it was tremendously difficult to make. While I understand the concept of the story, of the power of love and revenge to strengthen us, the movie never clicked with me, and it even felt preposterous at times. DiCaprio certainly underwent significant physical torture making this movie, and there was some emotion in his performance, but I definitely don't think this was the best performance of the year by a long shot, despite the fact he's a sure bet for the Oscar. Hardy, too, has delivered Oscar-worthy performances before, but this is definitely not one of them.

Beyond that, though, I thought this movie was utterly predictable and certainly not worthy of the praise being heaped upon it. A movie should be recognized as Best Picture because it is the best, not because it was challenging to make. Should this win Best Picture on Sunday evening, it will be one of the biggest disconnects I've ever had with the Oscars.

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