Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
It is exciting that Leonardo DiCaprio is finally generating serious Best Actor buzz at the upcoming Academy Awards for his role in The Revenant (opening today). DiCaprio is undeniably one of our more prestigious film actors, having giving us several profound, memorable performances over the past several decades, despite never winning an Oscar (he was nominated three times for Best Actor - The Wolf of Wall Street, Blood Diamond and The Aviator - while being nominated once for Supporting Actor in What's Eating Gilbert Grape). He is as A-list as you can get, and with such a prolific filmography, he definitely is deserving of Hollywood's top acting prize. And if he does score himself some Oscar gold this February, kudos to him. It's just too bad that he would be getting it for what has got to be his most superficial, one-dimensional performance in his well-established career.
Yes, DiCaprio can do torture. In The Revenant, that's pretty much all he does. His character, based on the real-life Hugo Glass, is in constant pain and suffering - unbearable, brutal suffering - with his acting petal slammed to the proverbial metal from the jump. There are no nuances to director Alejandro G. Inarritu's cold, bloody revenge epic: This is emotion served on a digital scale, not analog, with nothing in-between all or nothing at all.
Inarritu is of course coming off of an Oscar win himself, both for co-writing and directing last year's Best Picture winner, Birdman. That film too, wowed us with what it was able to create cinematically. The cinematography was itself, one of the more compelling elements of the story. If Birdman had not been done as one, seemingly-continuous shot from start to finish, it's hard to believe that the film would have received any critical attention at all. The Revenant, in this regard, is exactly the same. It's a stunningly beautiful, cold, chilling movie. It takes place almost entirely in the vast, empty winterish, hellish landscape of the early 1800's open frontier. Many shots are awe-inspiring, larger-than-life. Some of the spiritual elements the film toys with are heightened by a physical environment so graceful and marvelous, even an atheist might consider the presence of something more powerful.
And for about the first 30 minutes or so of The Revenant, you will stare wide-eyed at the screen as you get fully sucked in to this harsh, accursed world of trappers and hunters fighting for survival in this boundless woodland. There is an attack that is so immersive, you might fear the person sitting next to you in the theater might have gotten struck by an arrow. Then there is the "bear scene," one of the most violent, unflinching attack sequences ever put to film.
But whether or not the bear rapes DiCaprio (which became an actual question following early screening...a theory debunked by the filmmakers) is the least of the film's problems. Despite its beautifully polished exterior, there is nothing to The Revenant. It is the most epic torture porn movie ever made. The Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail may be the only other film character to ever suffer such punishment, and live.
Glass is an experienced huntsman whose party is attacked by hostile natives. After somehow surviving a grizzly attack by a bear, Glass should be dead...but isn't. The leader of his party, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) does not want to leave him behind, despite the wishes of fellow hunter John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Without giving away the few plot developments that follow, Fitzgerald ends up committing some heinous, villainous acts that eventually put him toe-to-toe with the man who was once nearly left for dead.
With DiCaprio groaning, screaming and fainting his way through the film, the story is not helped by the other two thinly drawn characters that accompany him. Captain Henry is the wholesome do-gooder and Hardy's Fitzgerald is one twirly-mustache shy of a stereotypical cartoon villain. They are Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash. And just because they are based on real people does not mean that the screenwriters wrote them as such. When Dudley...I mean, Captain Henry...inexplicably offers to accompany Glass to find Fitzgerald late in the film, I had had about all I could take (why would Henry go it alone with a guy who is barely alive, when he has several others in his party who could have accompanied him? Because the ending wouldn't have been nearly as cinematic probably).
The Revenant is a very "surface" movie, a revenge flick with no deeper purpose or meaning when all is said and done. I hope DiCaprio does get an Oscar one day, he deserves it. Just not for this role.
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 2 hours, 36 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest
Goodluck Co-Written & Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman, Biutiful, Babel, 21 Grams)
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