Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

OSCARS 2016: The Revenant (2015)

Last year, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscar’s with “Birdman,” a pretentious piece of self-satisfied claptrap about how much superhero movies suck and how evil critics are or something. For his follow-up, Inarritu decided to go even bigger. “The Revenant,” based on a novel which was itself loosely based on a real person, had a protracted, difficult production. Actors suffered in below zero temperatures, Tom Hardy had to turn down other jobs because the shoot went over-schedule, and Leonardo DiCaprio ate a raw bison liver. Meanwhile, Inarritu was always free to make pretentious statements to the press. Typically, the final film impressed the Academy, earning a crap ton of nominations. Having seen the film now, I can say that, at least, it’s less up its own ass than “Birdman” was.

The year is 1823. A group of fur trappers are beset by hostile Indians. Hugh Glass, an experienced tracker with a half-Indian son, butts heads with John Fitzgerald, a survivor of scalping. Glass is brutally attacked by a bear, left near death. The trapper party head back towards fort, dragging Glass unconscious body behind them. Slowing the party down, three men are assigned to stay behind and guard Glass. Fitzgerald uses this oppretunity to murder Glass’ son and bury Glass alive. Soon, Hugh drags himself from his grave and begins a long journey towards revenge.

Most of the press around “The Revenant” has focused on the bear attack, thanks to a really stupid rumor from a typically uninformed asshole. Truthfully, that bear attack sequence is impressive. Inarritu continues to favor long shots. Such a technique is utilized during the ursine mauling. The sequence is effectively drawn out. Just when you think the mama bear is down clawing the shit out of Leo, it comes back for more. Truthfully, “The Revenant” could’ve been subtitled “Everything Wants to Kill Leo.” He’s tossed around by a river in snowy weather. Indians fire arrows at him. He gets shot at. He rides his horse off a cliff. “The Revenant” is focused on being the most brutal survival story possible. We see Leo pull his horse’s entrails at before he climbs inside. He’s near death for most of the film.

Despite all these bells and whistles, “The Revenant” is ultimately a revenge story. The film is more than willing to trade in stereotypes. Glass’ wife was an Indian, his son is half-Indian, and a kindly native helps him survive. On the other hand, Native Americans are portrayed as bow wielding savages, who scalp and murder most anyone they encounter. The wife and boy, meanwhile, exist only to die, to invoke rage in the main character. The most clichéd element of the film is Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald. Hardy, sporting another ridiculous accent, plays the part as an undefined bad guy. He is racist against American Indians, so he naturally hates Glass and his boy. He is obsessed with being paid, being characterized as greedy. He’s careless too, telling his traveling companion inconsistent lies. The character is introduced urinating in an open field, just so you get that he’s crude and common. He’s not a real person but a plot device.

“The Revenant” is a well executed film. The cinematography is beautiful. Inarritu’s frenzied camera movements keeps the tension up. The finale confrontation between Glass and Fitzgerald is well done, the two men hacking at each other, using every weapon at their disposal. The score is lovely as well. Yet for all the care put into “The Revenant,” I can’t say I cared any about the characters. DiCaprio squirms on the ground, growls through a torn larynx, and stares ahead with intensity. Yet Hugh Glass lacks an inner life. Hardy’s part is so thinly written, and his performance is so broad, that Fitzgerald never emerges as believable. The supporting cast exist just to move the story along. “The Revenant” is less grandiose than “Birdman” but it has a similar problem: The characters are shallow, embodied not with personality but simplistic themes.

Because this is an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu movie, “The Revenant” has some inevitable pretensions. Glass is attacked by the bear because he got too close to its cubs. Glass pursues Fitzgerald because he murdered his son. If the audience didn’t get the parallel, Glass spends the entire film wrapped in the bear’s skin. Yet Leo kills the bear and accidentally provoke the mother, meaning the parallels between the two are meaningless. Whenever Glass sleeps, he has symbolism-laden dreams about his wife and son. These scenes are here to puff up the movie’s importance but contribute nothing to the story. After the suitable intense confrontation between the hero and villain, fate steps in to provide a groan-worthy ironic end to Fitzgerald. It’s all so much smoke up your ass.

It’s a shame too. When focused on visceral violence and bravo filmmaking, “The Revenant” totally works. There are bracing, intense sequence contained within this film. If nothing else, the movie is beautifully assembled. As a whole, it doesn’t hold together. The characters are too thin, the script too self-important. While you’re likely to be wrapped in it during the initial viewing, thinking about it afterwards reveals some issues. In other words, Inarritu has made another movie that is more surface than substance. [6/10]

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