The Revenant (2015)

*. The Revenant was greeted with nearly universal praise when it came out, though several reviewers mentioned how close some of it came to comedy. In that spirit, I’ll admit that it’s the first movie that I laughed out loud at for a long time. I don’t mean that in a bad way. What I laughed at was the dead bear rolling down the hill after Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass kills it, ending up landing right on top of him. That was funny. Good luck getting that big fella off!
*. As with a lot of these big movies (big budget, historical subject matter, lots of awards), I think The Revenant has trouble living up to its reputation. In fact, I’d say it has trouble living up to its scenery. It’s not a bad film, but it’s a very simple story that gives the cast little to do except look at the trees for over two-and-a-half hours.
*. Sticking with the scenery, Emmanuel Lubezki got a lot of praise for the photography but as I’ve said many times before, great photography should be about more than making things that are already beautiful look beautiful. Here we’re given lovely mountain landscapes that were, I think, mostly shot in Canadian national parks. How can you go wrong shooting snow-covered mountains? It’s postcard stuff and it looks like a collection of postcards. I also wondered why there were so many shots pointing up at the tops of trees in the forest. Was there some kind of point they were trying to make with that? Because they do it a lot.
*. I liked it better when Lubezki got dirty and moved things around a bit, especially in a number of complicated long takes that include lots of 360s. The opening attack on the trappers’ base was terrific, and the bear attack wasn’t bad either. But those are both early on and nothing in the rest of the movie measures up to those two scenes. I also thought the dirty could be overdone. If snow or blood or bear slobber gets on the camera, he just lets it sit there. Is that realistic, or an alienation effect?

*. What certainly isn’t realistic are all the dips Hugh takes in icy mountain streams. As I said in my notes on The Grey, if you don’t get out of your clothes and close to a fire or some other heat source within minutes of such exposure you’ll die. But maybe mountain men in the 1800s were tougher than we are today.
*. Oscars were won by Lubezki, director Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Leonardo DiCaprio. They (the Academy) do like this sort of thing.
*. I think DiCaprio’s award was the biggest stretch. It is not a challenging part. I don’t mean because he doesn’t have many lines (since his character spends much of the film recovering from a grievous throat wound), but because his character doesn’t develop very much. He’s a simple man on a simple mission: survival, then revenge.
*. The actor I did like watching was Tom Hardy. I enjoyed Fitzgerald’s laconic dopiness, and the fact that his character does have an arc. I don’t think he’s a bad man but just someone who keeps finding himself in bad situations and failing moral tests. One can empathize with him, at least somewhat, in almost all of his worst moments.
*. In sum, I found The Revenant overblown. This isn’t calling out the critical response; I’m only referring to the movie itself. It’s a slight, conventional story, without any interesting twists or challenges, and it’s stretched out at great length and over vast empty spaces. You can call such a treatment “epic” if you want, and I’ll admit it does have a certain awesomeness about it, but I don’t think there’s enough here to qualify The Revenant as a great movie.

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