Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Revenant

Winner of the Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture (Drama), Best Director and Best Actor (Drama), The Revenant is destined for multiple Oscar nominations (and some guaranteed wins) as well. Does it deserve all this acclaim?

Well, as a work of pure cinematic spectacle, it probably is the best film of the year (though Mad Max: Fury Road might want to make an argument; The Force Awakens needn’t bother). It is gorgeously filmed (I do love all those mountains and all that endless snow), has a great score, is clearly the work of a master director (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu) and is primarily a raw, gut-wrenching epic survival (not revenge) tale (reminding me of Dances With Wolves). Add to that, you have magnificent performances from the key actors (Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, with support from Domhnall Gleeson). So what’s not to love, you say?

I’m glad you asked. The big problem with The Revenant is its story. Based (yet again) on true events, The Revenant is set in 1823 Montana and South Dakota and tells the story of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a fur trapper working with a quasi-military hunting party who gets mauled by a grizzly bear and is basically left for dead. There’s much more to it, but I don’t want to have any spoilers here (depending on your definition, you may not want to trust me on this). Glass, of course, somehow manages to survive (spoiler?) and then, near the end of the film, you have the nasty revenge part of the story (spoiler?). That nasty revenge is certainly distasteful to me, and a sufficient reason not to like The Revenant, but it's not the heart of the problem. That heart is found in the way the subject (victim?) of that revenge is portrayed.

The subject of that revenge is a fellow trapper by the name of John Fitzgerald (Hardy), the film’s baddie who is painted worse and worse as the film progresses, so that viewers will feel a visceral vicarious pleasure at the villain’s vicious and inevitable demise (come on, that's no spoiler). When you combine that problem with a bleak tale that fails to explore or challenge the endless male-focused violence that occurs throughout, you do not, in my opinion, have a film worthy of Best Picture. I can’t even think seriously of giving it ***+, though much of The Revenant is worth it. So a solid *** it is. My mug is up, but don’t drink unless you have a strong stomach.

NOTE: I was reminded that, given DiCaprio's acceptance-speech remarks about the Indigenous peoples in The Revenant, I should make some comment about this. Yes, in spite of the fact that Indigenous people were shown to be as violent (or more so) as the white people, there was certainly an attempt to be respectful to Indigenous peoples, even to the extent that the leader of the tribe that was constantly fighting the white hunters gave a short speech in which he correctly blamed the white people for stealing their land, their animals and their way of life.

Trivia: I found it fascinating that in this second big Tom Hardy film of the year (Mad Max being the first), it is the other major character (played by DiCaprio) having flashbacks of his family suffering an attack.

1 comment:

  1. I have already been on the fence about this simply because I have little interest in "survival stories" (only slightly better than sports movies which are not high on my list). I've actually whined to friends because the acclaim for the movie might make me feel pressured to watch a survival movie that I'm not interested in. However, now that you also add it to the "revenge movie" genre, you have helped add it to one of the least interesting genres there is. Best picture or no, I think I will now give it a pass.