Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Revenant - a look at the film's Oscar successes and why it did not manage to win the coveted Best Picture trophy

movie review

The Revenant

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Tagline: Blood lost. Life found.

In the short span of just two years, Alejandro G Iñárritu has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood after releasing two cinematic masterpieces that have wowed critics and earned him numerous accolades. Last week, the Mexican film-maker made history by becoming the first director in over half a century to win the Academy Award for Best Director for two consecutive years. His second trophy in a row came for his latest project, The Revenant, a gritty drama that also helped Leonardo DiCaprio finally take home his long-overdue Best Actor Oscar and won Emmanuel Lubezki a much-deserved golden statuette in the Best Cinematography category.

Inspired by the story of frontiersman Hugh Glass (portrayed by DiCaprio), The Revenant takes us back to the 1800s, delivering a visceral story of survival and vengeance wherein men must battle the harsh elements of the icy wilderness as well as each other in order to stay alive.

As the film commences, a party of fur trappers are ambushed by attacking Ree warriors who savagely decimate the group. The survivors scurry to make an escape, relying on the acumen of their experienced guide, the aforementioned Hugh Glass who is accompanied by his half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), to lead them out of harm’s way. But before the men can make their way back to the safety of their outpost, Glass ventures into the path of a grizzly bear and is viciously attacked by the ferocious beast. The expedition’s captain (Domhnall Gleeson) entrusts their gravely injured companion’s care to two of his men – the adversarial John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and the greenhorn Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) – while the rest of the party moves on. But Fitzgerald betrays Glass, shattering his world with a vile act and leaving him to die.

Glass somehow manages to survive, and staggers through a string of horrific trials, warding off innumerable threats and dangers in the hopes of finding the man who ruthlessly betrayed him and getting his revenge.

Human brutality and endurance are both showcased in this stark, violent tale, and a terrific cast is on hand to bring this dark adventure to life. No one could have possibly been surprised to hear Leonardo DiCaprio’s name being called out as the Best Actor winner last week because his sheer commitment to this difficult role made both his performance and the movie so impressive. It is glaringly obvious that DiCaprio is fiercely invested in his role, and even though his character can’t talk (or has no one to talk to) for much of the movie, his expressions and grunts never fail to express the agony that he feels and the determination that drives him.

Thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning cinematography, visually the film is absolutely spectacular. The Revenant voyages into a forbidding terrain, then contrasts nature’s harshness with its beauty, revelling at length in the gorgeous landscapes of its setting, then savagely throwing its protagonist at the mercy of the toughest elements.

But why did the film not manage to win the coveted Best Picture trophy? Because despite the stellar acting and the dexterity of the camera work, The Revenant still can’t quite make the emotional impact that it should. With a two and a half hour running time, the movie is overly, unnecessarily long and not always very convincing. Even though it is based on a real-life character, the film presents a mostly fictionalised account of events, and its attempts at ‘Hollywoodizing’ the proceedings often leave it in preposterous territory. Fictional characters like Glass’s son Hawk, as well as a side plot about a chief searching for his kidnapped daughter, feel shoehorned into the proceedings, and the visions Glass is burdened with soon start to feel repetitive. And even though Hardy delivers an impressive performance as the conniving Fitzgerald, the writers turn him into a one-dimensional bad guy instead of giving the film a more nuanced antagonist.

On a technical and visual level, The Revenant is remarkable, easily ranking amongst the most well made movies of the year, and worthy of all three of its Academy Award wins, especially the ones for Lubezki and DiCaprio. But its gripping, gory yarn struggles to look for something deeper beneath its meticulously crafted surface, and never quite delivers the emotional complexity that would have made it a thoroughly satisfying watch. Still, the film ensures that the tension endures, and its style and visual dexterity as well as DiCaprio’s commanding performance guarantee that the project proves to be riveting and memorable.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune website - 8th March, 2016 *

No comments: