Just one year after the great (and apparently polarizing) Birdman, Alejandro Inarritu returns to the screen with his new offering, The Revenant, which is selling out theaters thanks to the newly revealed 2016 Oscar nominations. Not that I care any more about these award shows, but the movie is nominated in all of the eligible main categories.
We had the misfortune of seeing it at the Highland Theater (I’ll explain that in another post), as our new theater of choice was sold out until this afternoon, but at least Highland is literally one mile from home, and it was cold, sooooo …
Off the bat, I’ll say that I’m a big fan of Inarritu. Have been since 21 Grams. Another character-driven moviemaker, so that clearly shows where my allegiances lie as an audience member. Spectacle is nothing without character, in movies. If all it takes to impress you is CGI, more power to you, I guess.
That’s a sneaky segueway into The Revenant’s most talked about scene – the bear attack. And it’s really that good. Not only is the CGI on the bear terrific, the compositing on top of whatever DiCaprio was doing during the scene is technically flawless. It really has to be seen to be believed, and it absolutely deserves to be talked about in the way it is.
However, this scene is the only scene that’s being talked about, that I’m aware of. The rest of the movie is taut and gripping, but tonally, it feels flat to me. Do you remember your physics class experiment with rolling a trolley down a friction compensated slope? The ball never accelerates. Such is what I felt with The Revenant. It starts off at one pace, but then it never felt like the pace got either faster or slower. To me, this is mostly indicative of the sparseness of the plot. While the story itself is good, the actual plot feels like it could have made for a two hour movie (or less), not a two and a half hour movie. It isn’t, after all, telling an epic story, it’s the story of one man’s survival. Trouble is, it’s also a story about revenge, so there are certain audience expectations, and the movie unfolds this aspect at a glacial pace. The vast majority of the movie is the second act, which focuses singularly on Glass’s survival, and I have to admit, the scenes of Glass reverting back to dragging himself along in agony, after spending considerable screentime getting stronger and healthier is retrograde storytelling for me.
Still, fantastic performances from DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, excellent direction from Inarritu, a beautiful score from Ryuichi Sakamoto (though it sounds like it could be Ennio Morricone mostly), and perhaps the best cinematography I’ve ever seen (no, I’m talking about panning shots of beautiful landscapes), make this a must see cinematic experience. Overall, this is one where the sum of the parts were greater than the whole.
© Andrew Hope, 2016