Friday, February 12, 2016

The Revenant: Man vs Wild

Every year, there's an Oscar movie I dread watching. This year, that movie is The Revenant. An earnest drama about vengeance and man versus nature, this movie was a decided slog through its interminable 156-minute runtime. And while Leonardo DiCaprio is guaranteed to win the Best Actor Oscar, and the movie itself seems well-positioned for Best Picture, this is one of those films that highlight everything that makes people roll their eyes at the Oscars.

Set in 1823 and based on true events (a phrase applied to all Oscar bait these days), the movie tells the story of frontiersman, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), who is guiding a party of fur trappers led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) in the uncharted wintry wilderness of the northern Louisiana Purchase. When the party is attacked by Arikara Native Americans, Glass leads the survivors to safety, earning the Captain's gratitude. When Glass is then mauled by a grizzly bear, Captain Henry asks for volunteers to stay with Glass and take care of him until he dies, while the rest of the party makes their way back to civilization. Glass's half-Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), naturally chooses to remain behind with his father, but so do the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), and the avaricious John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

Fitzgerald has only stayed behind to earn the extra money promised by the Captain. However, he quickly tires of this errand, growing irate that Glass refuses to die. When he decides to take matters into his own hands, he is stopped by the appalled Hawk, and Fitzgerald kills him, right in front of the immobile but horrifyingly conscious Glass. Fitzgerald hides Hawk's body and proceeds to convince the naive Bridger that they are under attack by more Arikara and must flee, leaving Glass behind in a hastily dug up burial plot. Of course, vengeance is a mighty healer, and Glass begins the agonizing process of putting his wounded body back together so he can track the man who killed his son and left him for dead. What follows is a long, bloody tale of a man battling the elements and other men, while having dreams about the mother of his son where she whispers mysterious phrases that are meant to be inspiring in the way that the movies have always portrayed non-white people mystically inspiring white people in times of trouble.

I fully appreciate the artistry of this movie. It is utterly captivating to look at, thanks to the dependably magnificent cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. The landscapes are wild, untamed, and make you shiver, and the actors are put through their paces in all manner of horrific and chilling situations. The opening scenes of the Arikara attack reminded me of the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan or the frenetic sequences in Children of Men where the camera pans through unending scenes of carnage and confusion. There is no doubt in my mind that director Alejandro G. Inarritu is a master filmmaker who went to a great deal of trouble to make this movie. It simply strikes me that he went to a lot of trouble for a movie that I have zero interest in seeing.

I watch movies to be moved. There is nothing moving about The Revenant. It is a cold, clinical masterclass in filmmaking, excruciatingly dull and predictable to watch. It feels calculated to win awards but not inspire any kind of emotion in its audience apart from dread and the desire to be done with it. There was only one moment in the movie that genuinely thrilled me - a sequence when Glass is fleeing from Native Americans on horseback (one of the many extra attacks on his life he has to contend with in this movie, because a grizzly attack wasn't enough) and he suddenly rides off a cliff onto a tree. It is unexpected and visually stunning, and my first thought was, "How did they film that?" I would love to know how to film a technically challenging movie like The Revenant. But I certainly don't want to watch the polished and empty final product. 

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