The Revenant

tn_revenantRight now THE REVENANT (from executive producer Brett Ratner) is being marketed as an Important Awards Contender type movie. It’s the year’s most Oscar-nominated film and the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama, so until THE BIG SHORT won the Producer’s Guild award the other day it seemed like the frontrunner for the coveted title of Answer To Trivia Question About Which Lesser Movie Got Best Picture Instead Of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

It’s the latest from Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the least fun of the Three Amigos, but the one who got best picture, director and screenplay last year for BIRDMAN. He’s also a guy who talks real passionately and is charming in interviews, but in print or out of context can sound like a pretentious asshole, for example when he said that his excellent new western is not a western because it transcends pathetic human genre:

“Western is in a way a genre, and the problem with genres is that it comes from the word ‘generic’, and I feel that this film is very far from generic.”

(Genre actually comes from the French word for ‘kind’ or ‘type’.)

But fuck all that. That’s a distraction. On its own, THE REVENANT is the kind/type/genre of pure, undiluted, immersive filmatism that I love. Unafraid to go long stretches without dialogue, or to have the minimal exposition mumbled through an unintelligible accent, it plunges us into a world (1823 fur trappers and hunters under siege by Arikara Indians) and doesn’t give us any instructions on how to get home. It trusts that the dense atmosphere and simple, action-based narrative will lead the way.

Leonardo DiCaprio (POISON IVY) plays Hugh Glass, who along with his half-Native son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) is on this six month expedition that is ambushed, massacred and relieved of its pelts. As the survivors make their escape, bitter, racist John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, MINOTAUR) can’t stop bitching about it being all Glass’s fault. So when Glass is mauled by a bear (more on that later), Fitzgerald is awfully quick to argue for “the decent thing to do” of snuffing him out like a run-over deer. Then, when the asshole is foolishly trusted with the responsibility of staying with Glass until he dies and giving him a proper burial, Hawk ends up murdered and Glass left for dead in a shallow grave. So this is the story of Glass trying to 1. survive out in the frozen wilderness while cut up and smashed by a giant beast and 2. go get that asshole who killed his son.

mp_revenantIt’s a world without good guys, exactly. Glass’s Native American wife and son assure you that it’s not the old western “cowboys vs. Indians” routine, but you do see the Arikara… I’ll say it… savagely attacking them, and later another Native character has been wronged by the Sioux. The Arikara themselves turn out to be on a mission to rescue a kidnapped daughter, but their scorched earth approach to the problem is still pretty scary. Also our protagonist only fights a personal battle of revenge against a member of his party. He doesn’t go Dances With Wolves. He never seems to regret being part of an invading force of wildlife plunderers.

In that sense it’s like most post-9-11 war movies. It’s characters in the middle of a conflict without an end goal, that they know better than to try to understand. Their life is just endless war, that’s all they need to know.

Does it mean anything? Ultimately, it’s about nothing. It’s a package, and you open the box, and there’s another box, and another, and it doesn’t lead you to the truth. I’m just kidding, that wasn’t me talking, that was a quote from Iñárritu about super hero movies. If there is something meaningful in THE REVENANT, maybe it’s that this unit is not even military, they’re workers for a corporation, acting like soldiers. Domnhall Gleason is very good as their honorable-but-in-over-his-head leader. (Good for him getting good roles in this and EX_MACHINA and THE FORCE AWAKENS all in one year.)

Anyway that quote is sort of how I feel about Iñárritu’s movies sometimes, but that doesn’t matter if he makes them this exquisite. They don’t have to be as good as he says they are to be worth watching.

DiCaprio continues on his WOLF OF WALL STREET trajectory of showing what a great physical actor he can be. He spends most of the movie crawling, stumbling, limping, moaning in pain. There’s a vain sort of anti-vanity in showing how over-the-top disgusting he can get: drooling and gurgling, hairy, dirty, covered in messy open cuts and scars, his lips cracked and slimy, his mustache covered in frozen snot globs. It’s an extremely gory movie, not just in terms of violence but in terms of infected, festering wounds you gotta look at, and things like him drinking water and then it pours out of a slash in his neck. The real life Glass (yes, this is sort of based on a real historical figure) allowed maggots to eat his dead flesh to prevent gangrene. I’m surprised they didn’t go for that, it seems right up this movie’s alley.

I bet DiCaprio could’ve been just as good without getting all Method about it, but it makes for some funny stories. Apparently when he bites into a raw bison liver and pukes it was real. Nice try bud but Nicolas Cage didn’t puke when he ate a roach. Anyway, there’s a 1971 Richard C. Sarafian movie called MAN IN THE WILDERNESS where Richard Harris plays Hugh Glass (called “Zachary Bass”). So I bet Leo was thinking “I gotta beat Richard Harris’s performance. I gotta eat something disgusting.”

Hardy doesn’t do any eating stunts, but to me he’s the acting highlight. He plays a gruff, murderous dirtbag, but also the biggest whiner and coward in a large crew of people in a bad situation. Fitzgerald’s positions sometimes could be considered reasonable – cold but realistic about what must be done to survive – but Hardy sells that he’s really just making excuses because he’s a chickenshit and doesn’t mind sacrificing a guy he has a grudge against so he can get the fuck out of there. Later he has to lie a bunch to cover up what he’s done, and sometimes it’s blackly humorous how poorly he does it. It may be that he’s a bad liar, but I suspect he just doesn’t give enough of a shit to try to be convincing. Almost like a taunt. Like, “Oh yeah, my story sounds like bullshit? Are you gonna call me on it?”

Although this performance is not entirely inward like Max in FURY ROAD I wouldn’t say it’s very mega either. He’s a pretty convincing character. I hope Hardy never gets tired of figuring out how to do crazy new accents. He’s so fun to watch because he always seems to be trying to invent a new version of himself.

As good as these two are taking turns in the battle of the marble-mouthed mountain men, the real star is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (THE TREE OF LIFE, THE CAT IN THE HAT). That’s not just a cute thing to say, it’s an honest assessment of what most makes this movie so worth watching. Yes, there are some long takes (not as extreme as in Lubezki’s CHILDREN OF MEN, GRAVITY OR BIRDMAN) but mostly this is about finding different ways to put you into the action along with the character. Lots of closeups of DiCaprio as he’s surrounded by battle, riding a horse, getting arrows shot at him, etc. You’re practically sitting on his lap.

At times it feels like an amazing theme park ride. You drift through a section of woods where the crew are hacking open piles and piles of animal carcasses, then you’re hearing battle around you and flaming arrows are coming from above, you’re spinning around trying to figure out which way to run, seeing people across the way get arrows through their heads and drop.

(Side note: the arrows in this thing are so powerful they seem like those giant Na’vi arrows from AVATAR. They seem like they could go right through a car.)

Not only does it plunge you into the thick of battle, it surrounds you with nature. It takes the time to depict the beauty, the terror, and the quiet of a snowy landscape. It’s evident in most of it that they went out on location. I was surprised to find out they started a real avalanche, that was maybe not necessary, but whatever they feel they gotta do to get into the mood, I guess. Like all movies now they make a really big deal about not using digital effects, which is an outrageous lie because there are tons of ILM animal sequences that might as well be dinosaurs for how much the human brain believes they are really there. But yes, it was wise to go out into real snow and use digital cameras to shoot in natural light.

About that bear. I knew he was gonna get attacked by a bear. I didn’t know (SPOILER) he was gonna go the distance! He goes three rounds, takes an early beating, but gets the TKO. And then he has to heal up for the title defense against Fitzgerald at the end.

That mauling sequence is some kinda mini-classic. The bear is obviously a special effect, but it’s an incredible feat of animation because the bear mentality is so convincing. Her behavior is inscrutable: viciously protective, then seemingly playful, then seeming to forget all about him, then coming after him again. When she stands on his head and sniffs around she doesn’t necessarily seem like she’s trying to hurt him. You can’t know what a bear is thinking. You haven’t been through what a bear has been through. You haven’t lived the bear experience.

I love how the scene just keeps going. The bear seems to be done with him and then she’s like What was I doing again? I got sidetracked… oh, duh. I was mauling that bearded weirdo that was snooping around my cubs. Here he is. I’ll finish up.

And there’s an excellent “oh jesus, what now?” punchline to the fight that’s one of the few parts of the movie where I felt like it was okay to laugh.

After the bear attack Glass kinda acts like a bear, crawling around grunting, with a bear fur slung over his back. Leatherfacing it. Later, in a J.J. Abrams style EMPIRE STRIKES BACK reference, he cuts open a horse, digs out the gigantic horse-guts, and sleeps inside the shell to survive a snow storm. When he crawls out in the morning, naked, bloody and refreshed, clearly the symbolism is birth. He is reborn from a horse. So why doesn’t he act like a horse for the rest of the movie? He should be galloping and whinnying and stuff. That’s why this isn’t gonna win best picture. HUGE plot hole. Man, the boys at Red Letter Honest Trailer Riffs are gonna have a field day with this blunder.

In my opinion the poster should say “FROM A PRODUCER OF UNDER SIEGE.” Sure, Arnon Milchan is better known as producer of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, BRAZIL and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, but this one has a few action movie tropes in it, which you know I always appreciate. For one thing you got a part where he’s sneaking up to steal horses from a camp and happens to witness a rape happening, so he saves her. Usually it would be in an alley and it would be some kind of punk rocker gang doing it, but it’s the same idea. Later, having saved that particular woman will cause some mean bastards to let him go, so now that I think about it it’s exactly the same ending as TRAINING DAY.

And thankfully you got a climactic showdown. It’s based on the book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke (adapted by Mark L. Smith, VACANCY), so happily Glass (spoiler) gets his revenge. Or, actually he does the way more common movie thing of going to get revenge and then deciding at the last second that revenge is morally wrong, so then instead of killing him he does a different thing that will indirectly kill him and he pretends that’s some kind of loophole that makes it not count as revenge. Give me a break, Glass. You did kill him, you did get revenge. Stop lying to yourself.

In real life Glass tracked down Fitzgerald and did not kill him. He did get his gun back, though. REVENGE IS SWEET.

Anyway, the scene is a great, brutal ax vs. knife fight between two seriously injured opponents. It’s like in the early UFC when it was a tournament and in the later rounds you had two guys who shouldn’t even be standing up trying have a fight. Glass takes a couple John McClanes worth of damage throughout this movie. Only through magical Indian healing is he able to ride a horse again, and then he crashes the fuckin thing off a cliff into a tree. Who does he think he is, Evel Knievel? What he needs to do is curl up inside a dead horse and rest, but he insists on looking for a fight.

And there’s this beautiful moment where they’re facing off along the river and you can see cliffs way in the background and all the sudden a sliver of golden sunlight hits the cliffs, and then in the next shot it spreads across. Unless Iñárritu is full of shit this was all shot in natural light without touchups, so I’m gonna assume/hope that was the real deal.

But it doesn’t matter either way. I don’t think THE REVENANT speaks to me on an intellectual level, if it’s supposed to, but it speaks to me on a more primal one. It uses imagery and sound to put me into a place, make me feel like I’m experiencing something. Like his friend Cuaron’s GRAVITY, Iñárritu has created the halfbreed son of a serious, arty movie and a summer popcorn spectacle. Forget about awards and grand statements about indigenous cultures and all that shit and just respect that it’s a movie that takes advantage of every inch of a giant multiplex screen, every surrounding speaker of its sound system, to do things that only this medium can do. It’s a real fuckin MOVIE.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 26th, 2016 at 12:36 pm and is filed under Action, Drama, Reviews, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

43 Responses to “The Revenant”

  1. This was a fun ride, even if I’m not sure the destination was worth it. For somebody who doesn’t care for genre movies, Iñárritu managed to replicate some of their biggest cliches (and not any of the good ones) pretty exactly with that ending. Sometimes that happens when filmmakers don’t actually know much about the genre they’re attempting to “transcend.” They think they’re being original, not realizing it’s all been done in like seven different Dolph Lundgren movies.

    I also gotta be honest and admit that I started finding Leo’s suffering pretty hilarious around the time he fell off that cliff. The torment was just so unrelenting that I had no choice but to laugh. I didn’t mind, though, because I like laughing and I didn’t expect to get any kind of “fun” out of this particular movie at all. Every new misfortune just made me smile wider.

    So yeah, I agree with Vern. Just enjoy the sights and sounds and sensations of the experience. Don’t stop and think about what it all means. Which is pretty much exactly how I felt about Iñárritu’s last stunning technical achievement/pretty much full of shit story.

  2. I was more impressed than I was moved by it. I haven’t seen a winter this immersive since THE GREY, but I felt that the nature stuff sometimes muted the dramatic intention. Say what you will about Malick’s use of nature, but it felt in step to me for at least BADLANDS and THE THIN RED LINE. I do have a bit of a problem with the dialogue too, it feels way too modern at times to be set in the 1820’s.

    But the performances were pretty top-notch for me. Funny how your average teenage male 20 years ago would have laughed at the idea of Leo playing badasses, but for all that flak he got after I saw him in ROMEO + JULIET I had little doubt this would be the direction he went in if he managed to survive the wild time of being super-rich and famous and in your 20’s. Gleeson is great as you pointed out, but so is Will Poulter as the guy who Fitzgerald fools into thinking Glass is dead. I spent part of the movie trying to figure out what I remembered him from, but it turns out the last movies he did was THE MAZE RUNNER and WE’RE THE MILLERS.

  3. That single-take attack scene was impressive, though I’m always looking for the cheat in those shots. There was a halfway moment where the camera went through a dark shack, which could have allowed for a cut. Carpenter fessed up to doing a similar thing in HALLOWEEN’s opening one-tracker. I’m still gonna call CREED the undisputed champion in that race, since I couldn’t detect a cheat.

  4. I haven’t seen THE REVENANT yet, but I can actually heartily recommend that 1971 Richard Harris one. It’s also very low on dialogue, and high on scenes of wounded Harris limping around. But more importantly, it has John Huston as the commander who abandoned him and he has to get revenge on. Huston thinks the crew will be able to sail down the river once they come to it, and so spends the whole movie dragging a giant boat on wheels across barren landscapes. Very FITZCARRALDO. Huston is fuckin great in it, and the film is full of weird, crazy symbolism and raw action, and the end in particular is a doozy. Also STAR TREK’s James Doohan has a supporting role as one of the grizzled, bearded crew who abandon Glass.

    But most importantly, check it out:

    Richard Harris IS the Man in the Wilderness. It’s got the “is” right there in the title! How are you gonna say no to that?

  5. I really enjoyed this. Sure they made Hardy’s Fitzgerald the most annoying scumbag ever, but you kind of get an understanding when he’s telling that kid about the time he got scalped. Yeah, I’d be pretty sketchy in any woods filled with Indians after having half my head cut off too.

    I loved all the survival shit Glass did, like the ring of stones to catch that fish, or using John Rambo’s trick to cauterize his neck wound.

    To rein this back in to movie kudos and awards and stuff, maybe Leo deserves some kind of Oscar? Certainly, other elements of the film do (production design, cinematography, special effects, whoever does the blood etc). But I felt this was more a physical kind of role than an….”acty” role. I still felt it was Leo in the woods playing a weird Terminator/Predator hybrid. I didn’t see him as Glass, despite the beard. Hardy, on the other hand, that dude is a chameleon.

    Personally, Leo should have got the Oscar nod for Departed, but whatevs.

  6. “He’s also a guy who talks real passionately and is charming in interviews, but in print or out of context can sound like a pretentious asshole…”

    Aptly put. In interviews Inarritu’s always smiling and clearly having a good time. I could listen to him talk all day. He did a podcast interview with Darren Aronofsky that’s really good:

    Listen to Darren Aronofsky and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 30-Minute Talk on ‘The Revenant’

    Entering wide release today, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant mostly pays off with its sheer scale and uncompromisingly somber tone, I noted in my review. With the director on the press c…

    I’ve seen people criticize Hatdy’s performance but man I loved it. Fitzgerald is such a nasty but pathetic character and Hardy invests everything’s he got in it. I cracked up every time he mutters “shit” or “goddamnit” after every time something doesn’t go his way. He’s both pissed off and resigned at the same time.

    Here’s a game you can play: type Inarritu’s name into Twitter’s search and see how many times “bullshit,” “asshole,” “pretentious” and “fraud” come up. It’s fun!

  7. I don’t want to give the technical aspect of the film short shrift. If nothing else, I’m just glad that the current vogue for long tracking shots seems to have finally put an end to the Shakycam Era.

  8. Yeah, I more respect this movie than I love it, but that’s fine. I knew the cinematography would be great coming in, and I was not disappointed. This Lubezki guy; he knows what he’s doing. The bear attack was particularly impressive. I imagine Innaritu and Lubezki watched Herzog’s Grizzly Man a few times before choreographing that stunt. The alien motivation of the bear was disturbing; a human wouldn’t wander off and let his prey crawl to his gun, but bears don’t know shit about guns. There’s a tree! I gotta go climb it! Oh yeah, let me finish off this loser–OUCH, what was that?!

    Hardy was great yet again. I’m starting to think he’s the best actor out there in terms of creating character and making you believe him. Fitzgerald wasn’t capital-E evil in this, you could see where he was coming from throughout, even if you disagree with him. You can even sort-of understand why he killed Hawk; shitload of Ree in that forest, can’t have some guy screaming his head off, right?

    And in the climactic fight, I couldn’t help but laugh when Leo cuts off three of Hardy’s fingers and he just groans in disgust. “Can you believe this shit?”

    Also, mad respect for the “dead body as decoy” move Leo pulls. That’s genre as fuck, no matter what Inarritu says. Remember when Tom Cruise put the mask on the henchman in M:I2 and let the bad guy taunt the decoy while he stole the virus? Reminded me of that, even if the henchman wasn’t technically dead.

  9. This movie is shit, and I’ll be posting BOTH a 320 minute, scene-by-scene vlog analysis and a short-form Honest Trailer to illustrate this thesis.

  10. Just joshing, I couldn’t agree more with Vern’s review. This isn’t about making a statement, and it’s certainly not talky. It’s about transporting you to another world that is both arty, hyperreal and raw and naturalistic, and just taking you on this journey with this guy and giving you something of a sense of what he’s going through. A mix of third-person god’s eye and first-person immersive experience. And all the performances are just so great. Hardy is fantastic. Dicaprio is great. Gleeson really shows and proves. Awesome.

  11. Also, notwithstanding the fact that he hurt Drew McWeeny’s feelings, frickin Tom Hardy is a bawse. Not that I’ve seen all his films (still haven’t watched Locke or Bronson), but he just absolutely crushes everything I’ve seen him in. I’m still in that minority that thinks Dark Knight Rises is better than Dark Knight: they’re both awesome, but Rises is the one I keep re-watching, and the Bane performance is about 79% of the reason. I love the accent, the inspiration for the accent. It’s just so tough and sinister and garbled and carnival barker-affectationy all at once, it’s hard for me to express how much I love it. “You came back to die with your city?” His swagger in the film. All these wonderful little interactions, like his stuff with Rupert Thorne and his boy-girl Friday. Tremendous.

    And then you see him in a film like this or a film like Warrior, and it’s a totally different experience but every bit as compelling. The only movie of his I’ve seen where he didn’t steal the show was actually probably Fury Road, but he was great in that, too. The guy just goes all in, takes risks, and consistently delivers big. Striving for and achieving excellence.

  12. This review is pretty spot on. The Revenant is a really great genre film. I loved watching DiCaprio’s character go through so much crap over and over again. It’s also a beautiful looking film. And, just as important, it’s pretty damn brutal.

    I definitely don’t think there’s much substance to the movie overall. Funny enough, I think The Revenant has a greater chance of winning best picture, but Mad Max: Fury Road is the more thought provoking film, even though it has more “genre” trappings.

    My major complaint with the film is how it portrayed the Native Americans. They had to be poor put upon victims, but this isn’t really historically accurate during this time and place. My understanding is that whites had stumbled upon a larger military and political turmoil between different native nations. And while disease had already had a major toll on native populations out West, Native Americans were a massive political force in the region. Whites couldn’t have carried out fur trading without the help of native allies.

    So the power dynamic we see in the film, where French and American traders have the upper hand is a good fifty years or so too early. Even when the U.S. military finally managed to get up enough forces to fight the Arikara, there were far more Sioux soldiers than American soldiers. Really, the American military was being used by the Sioux in order to gain an advantage over a longtime political and military rival.

    I don’t really expect complete historical accuracy from my films, but I also wish filmmakers wouldn’t rely on the same Native American tropes again and again. Still, I loved the central story, and there are moments of real beauty in the film.

  13. I really thought this was some fantastic cinema. Really striving for greatness. The performances were great, Dicaprio and Hardy both knocked it out of the park. I could watch Tom Hardy mumble in odd accents for hours at a time, he’s truly one of the best and most diverse actors working today in my opinion.

    Some people seem to be really down on Leo, saying that all he did was crawl around and moan for two hours, but I have to say I was captivated by his performance. I never forgot that I was watching Leonardo Dicaprio, but I accepted a long time ago that he’s not a chameleon like Hardy or Gary Oldman. His star power and presence shines through his roles and keeps you from forgetting your watching an actor. I don’t think that necessarily detracts from his performances though. I really believed he was experiencing all the pain and cold and anguish of Hugh Glass while watching the movie. When the credits finally rolled it was like realizing I’d been holding my breath for the past two hours. Easily one of the most visually beautiful movies I’ve ever seen as well. Chivo is just stacking Oscars at this point but I definitely think he earned another one for his work on Revenant.

    After watching it and thinking about it for a day or two I found myself wishing I could see an alternate universe version where Leo and Tom swapped roles. I wonder if people would say Leo outdid Hardy if he had been playing the more verbose character. As is, Leo is doing 99% physical acting, where Hardy gets the monologue about God being a squirrel (fantastic), and the story about getting scalped. I felt like maybe some people enjoyed Hardy more because he had more dialogue, and did a lot with it.

    Anyways I loved the Revenant. It hasn’t been far from my mind these past couple weeks since I saw it. I can’t wait to buy the BluRay and soak up that incredible scenery again.

  14. This movie sucks shit. The slow train to snoozeville.

  15. ***SPOILERS for a 200 year old story and possibly BATMAN BEGINS***

    I read the ending differently. Glass does not forgo his revenge on Fitzgerald, he just enacts it in a more precise way. He gives him the same chance of survival he was given and watches him fuck it up. It’s not pretending that letting him die is supposed to be morally superior to killing him directly, it’s just more satisfying to him to watch Tom Hardy go out like a chump.

  16. Man, I wanted to like this movie. Unfortunately, just like every other God damned flick that Iñárritu has directed since Amors Perros (a movie I apparantly loved so much that, 16 years later, I am still willing to pay good money to endure his pretentious-but-beautifully-photographed follow-up efforts ala Birdman, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful…Christ, that fucking spelling!). The dude just takes himself way, way too seriously and it permeates every single frame of his films.

    I think Mr. Majestyk’s comment is dead-on: Iñárritu just isn’t that familiar with the very genre (fuck, that “genre/generic” comment really pisses me off) he was attempting to transcend in the first plac. Which is a shame, as I think there really might b a great B-grade Western that’s hidden beneath all the art-house bloat. If the story was, like, 45 minutes shorter (you could easily knock off 20 minutes alone just by editing out all the god damn footage of swaying Pine trees) it could probably be riveting.

    And Jesus H. Christ, has there EVER been a Hollywood movie, Western or otherwise, that was more bereft of humor than The Revenant? I am literally staring at my entire DVD collection (easily around 500) right now and I’ve yet to come across a single flick that’s anywhere near the 100% dourfest that is The Revenant. Maybe if I watched it again I’d see the humor in Leo’s escalating physical agony…but I’m not. And why is everybody talking about him eating the bison liver? Or, more importantly, why hasn’t anyone asked him why he didn’t just, you know, try “acting” like he was eating a bison liver. Why wasn’t that a reasonable option?

    That said, the bear scene was pretty awesome. If it wasn’t probably already on YouTube, I’d say that the scene was almost worth the price of admission…almost.

  17. I think this criticism actually reflects a need to hold this film accountable to some predefined conventions of the western. This film fails, because it lacks the humor or doesn’t understand the conventions of the western. And I think this proves the director’s point, that he’s not making a conventional western. From my view, that doesn’t make it better or worse than a conventional western, it’s just that it doesn’t and isn’t intended to fit some tropey template (not that there is anything wrong with tropey templates…I love Open Range, 3:10 to Yuma and other recent westerns that do fit the template). I don’t think the film is going for humor. I don’t think it takes itself too seriously, I think it’s just not intending to go for humor, because that would distract from the mental state that the film is trying to evoke.

    Having said that, like Majestyk, I laughted when the horse went over the cliff. I actually think they may have known this would be a laugh in the sense of the audience letting off “are you kidding me?” white knuckle tension at that point in the film.

    As with what Vern said, I think it’s important to separate the film itself from the director’s interview bullshit. I was perhaps at an advantage in that I’ve never seen or read and interview with this guy and the only other film of his I’ve seen is Birdman (the one about Cash Money records), so I have no such baggage.

  18. Great review Vern. I didn’t care for the film personally but can absolutely respect and applaud its filmmaking achievements and totally understand the love that others have for it. Also I agree that Majestyk was so on point with his insights into genre dismissal by filmmakers who then end up cribbing the most overplayed cliches of the genres their dismissing. Great call on that one sir.

  19. Truncation, succinctness, etc. are no criteria for being or not being riveting, IMO and all that.

  20. I don’t necessarily get humorless as a critique in and of itself. I don’t mind if my movie doesn’t have a few jokes. I’ll survive. I can see that as a problem if the tone is off, but I became really engaged in the narrative, and I don’t think there were too many opportunities for a wacky sidekick to crack wise while Leonardo Dicaprio got mauled by bears and cauterized his neck wound with gun powder.

  21. Right, and even if the director is a self-serious, grandiose person (I’m not saying one way or the other), I think it’s fine that this film lacks humor. It’s supposed to be unrelenting. I don’t think an occasional well-timed, tension-relieving humorous moment would have been horrible, but neither do I think it’s some crime against genre that it was absent. Different films do different things, and this one is not for everyone.

  22. Yeah, I have to admit that “bereft of humor” was a poorly worded critique; as it sounds like all I needed was a cleverly-timed prat-fall or fart joke or an ironic aside and my opinion of the movie would have been higher…by about 20 minutes in, nothing could save this movie for me.

    Complete disclosure here: I just Googled: “The Revenant” “Reviews” and “Humorless” and a recent New Yorker review was the first thing that popped up. While the review has a number of paragraphs that totally go over my head, its accusation that the flick is “Terrance Malick Lite” feels utterly dead-on to me. The Tree of Life could (yes, in my opinion) get away with such a tonally “humorless” approach…The Revenant (which could have been such an awesome little revenge/genre film) simply can’t…probably because the story is too straight forward. Or not. At any rate, every movie of his since Amorres Perros just leaves me dissatisfied and annoyed.

  23. was it the fetuses of 2 foals he took out of the horse? I wondered that when I saw it. seemed oddly resonant with the fact that there were 2 bear cubs that were presumably sacrifices for his survival after the hear fight…. or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

  24. Don, I hear what you’re saying, but it seems like a lot of your beef is rooted in things outside of what’s onscreen, like your perception that the director (I refuse to learn how to spell his name) is d-bag or whether Dicaprio really ate bison liver or prop bison liver or what. I can accept that those things are coloring your view and that you can’t push them out of your mind, but what do they have to do w/ the actual film onscreen?

    Also, I think the point of the film is to make you breathe and to simulate or a approximate for the audience that, yes, this is a real slog this guy has to go through. Not that I think the director’s actively trying to boredom-torture you, but that, again, the point of the film is for you to kind of be on the ground floor of this nightmare and really appreciate what a struggle and sheer act of will and resourcefulness (and a fair amount of pure luck) it is for this guy to get his revenge.

    And I think it is visually beautiful and full of wonderful character moments of real warmth, love, understanding. All the personalities and choices and reactions and interactions are just great. I like a lean, efficient film as much as the next person (Rocky III and IV are great examples), but if this film had moved at a super fast clip, I think it really would have taken away from what the journey he’s trying to take you on. It’d be too glib and easy.

    Also, I don’t get the “Malick-lite.” I could see, Malick-esque, but what is -lite about it?

  25. No Oscar for this i guess. His role has simply too little text. They already put his whole dialogue in the trailer. To stay in a disemboweled horse carcasses requires no great acting but rather a low inhibition threshold. In this case they should nominate the whole jackass crew for their life achivement.
    THE REVENANT is a fantastic movie in an arty jackass episode kind of way.
    Hardy beats DiCaprio in this thing. At some point in the movie it almost felt like Hardy varied his Mad Max role just to get a kick out of it.

  26. Meh – Glass is no Forrest Taft.

  27. Leo will get the Oscar though. Shoulda got it for WOLF OF WALL STREET but he’ll get it for this I think.

  28. I see very little parallel to this role and the Mad Max role. As I said above, I’m no Tom Hardy expert, but from the roles I have seen (TDKR, Inception, Mad Max, Warrior), the dude has tons of range.

    Also, there seems to be a preoccupation with dialogue as opposed to emoting and nonverbal communication. That’s the basic beef that a lot of people seem to have with Malick and with this film: Not enough words, he who has the most words wins (so Hardy>Dicaprio), not fast enough. Same beef against Ti West’s suspense-horror joints. I can get if those movies bore you: I do think they’re an acquired taste. But I think a lot of the hate stems from a frustration that the movie is not even trying to do what you would like it to try to do (i.e., move quickly and have lots of dialogue and/or action). It’s just not that kind of film and is not trying to be that kind of film. Fine if that’s not your type of film, but I think it’s along the lines of don’t expect a country album from Jay Z.

  29. Boy, I must just be a total asshole here because I actually loved this one, thought it was perfect or very near to it. It was the one thing I most want movies to be: utterly transporting and utterly engrossing. I’m frankly baffled by anyone claiming it was boring or “arty,” to me it felt like an action-packed suspense ride pretty much all the way through. Is it anything more than a simple revenge story? Of course not, but why does it need to be? It’s an exquisitely made revenge story, jam-packed with captivating scenes, arresting visuals, and memorable performances.

    Casually checking the box office figures on Monday, I was sort of bemused to see an arty western had displaced STAR WARS as #1 in America, but having seen the movie now I completely understand. Despite Iñárritu’s supposed disdain for genre films, he made a really great one as far as I’m concerned.

  30. Personally, I wouldn’t call it boring, and Mr S knows me well enough to know that “arty” would be a compliment coming from me. I just thought it was terrible. I don’t like Inarritu’s mopey, miserablist worldview that fetishizes suffering, and while technically impressive, I thought the stagey-ness of of the whole thing (not to mention some distracting CG) pulled me out of it. Which is especially bad, because the entire point of the movie seems to be that it’s a gritty, harrowing experience; but it all seemed phony-baloney to me.

    Honestly though, except for BIRDMAN I never really cared much for Inarritu (see above re: cheer up emo kid), and ever BIRDMAN seems less interesting to me as time passes.

  31. I was surprised how engaged I was by Domnhall Gleeson. His role was definitely one the less show-offy. More of a square. So, in some ways, he has a great acting challenge in his own right, as it’s less of an obviously flashy, Oscar-bait role. That’s not to say he should be nominated (I don’t put too much stock in that anyway), but I think it’s easy to overlook the great work he does here, because he’s kind of the sixth man or whatever (basketball metaphor).

    That said, I thought pretty much every performance was fantastic, including Poulter (great moments with him and Hardy), Redcloud, Nakehk’o, and Goodluck. It shows you the best and worst that nature and humanity have to offer, and it’s a thing of beauty.

  32. On Birdman, I will say that, although I liked it and think it’s a good work, I do think it’s been overhyped. One thing I do appreciate is what a flat out weirdo film it is and that a film that weird can not only be nominated but win. Guess it doesn’t hurt to be packed with starpower.

    Poor Michael Keaton, though. #OscarsNoKeaton

  33. I always feel weird when someone asks me if I liked a movie or not and I say “I don’t know”.
    I know the movie kept my attention, and I was impressed by it. But I also have zero desire to ever see it again.
    And like Vern just said above, of course Leo will win the Oscar for this. And I can think of at least four performances of his that were leaps and bounds better, especially Wolf of Wall Street. The fact that I can say that is proof positive he is due to win, for sure.

  34. Speaking of filthy generic Westerns, I’m really interested in checking out JANE GOT A GUN – and not in a “rubbernecking the flaming ruins of a troubled production” sorta way. It sounds like it could have some interesting potential (despite the generally dismissive reviews) or at the very least be a solid meat and potatoes genre movie.

  35. The last three out of four years Best Picture Oscars went to Hollywood themed films: The Artist, Argo, Birdman. The only exception was 12 years a slave. Meaning Hollywood loves to pat itself on the back. All three of these films are overrated. How Argo could be a better film than Zero Dark Thirty in any capacity is beyond me. Although everything is subjective and if memory serves correctly some big-time politicians got involved to to muddy the picture. And they were successful with that come award time. Birdman was good to see Keaton back in action though.

    I saw Hardy on some interview talking in this one. Said he modeled his accent after Tom Beringer’s Barnes from Platoon. How he was such a huge fan of that character from when he was a kid. He really is good changing up his accents from film to film.

  36. Thomas Caniglia

    March 3rd, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    Mr. Majestyk, I love this passage from your post. It applies to so very many pretentious efforts by smug people:

    “Iñárritu managed to replicate some of their biggest cliches (and not any of the good ones) pretty exactly with that ending. Sometimes that happens when filmmakers don’t actually know much about the genre they’re attempting to “transcend.” They think they’re being original, not realizing it’s all been done in like seven different Dolph Lundgren movies.”


  37. I’m a bit torn on this one. It was beautiful and parts of it were amazing. But overall it felt very long and boring. I’m not sure if it helped or hurt that I watched in on a small screen in installments. I’m sure it looks incredible in theaters but I would have been dying for it to end.

    I also laughed out loud when he went over the cliff. I think they had to be going for that reaction.

  38. I rewatched this one, and Jesus, don’t bother. In the theater it had some sensory overload going on to supplement the generic plot and hollow lead but that all goes away on TV and leaves you with a standard western revenge flick that goes on an hour too long and acts real pleased with itself at every turn. I don’t feel that I know Glass any better at the end of the movie than I did at the beginning, and I think that’s because the commitment to suffering and torment lacks specificity. Great performances are about choices that illuminate character. When all you’re doing is blubbering the whole movie, you’re not making any choices. You’re just doing what anybody in pain would do at that moment. It’s nothing I haven’t seen a thousand horror movie starlets do to no acclaim. In the end, the movie has lots and lots of great ingredients but it goes nowhere and takes forever to get there. Hey, have you guys heard that revenge won’t bring your loved ones back? What an amazing new concept that totally warranted like seven hilariously cliched dream sequences about an ethereal dead wife that reveal nothing.

    In a lot of ways, this movie points out many of my beefs with the value placed on cinematography and costumes and other elements of big-budget production. Sure, all the departments really crushed it, and for a brief period on the big screen, that was enough to distract from its nothing story told with maximum pomposity. You shrink it down to human size and it’s just the same old shit dressed up twice as fancy but half as exciting.

  39. I sincerely hated this boring, miserable fuckling movie and it’s gaudy, distractingly show-offy visual style that is completely at odds with the aforementioned grim tone. Everything looks so fake and stagey, I don’t understand how people found any of it exciting or interesting.

    That Leo won an Oscar for his mumbly, po-faced, one-note performance just goes to show how susceptible people are to stupid marketing gimmicks.

  40. I wasn’t wild about when it came out in theaters. Innaritu is one those guys whose snobbishness rubs me really wrong. That’s not fair to the movies I don’t think though. I think it was you, Mr. M, you said that Innaritu probably only watched like one western and decided he was going to make the genre his bitch because he’s so awesome *paraphrasing you*. I tried re-watching this one and just couldn’t. Snobs are of course gonna love it because it is so well-made, if we’re just talking about the craft of filmmaking, this one is hard to beat. If we’re talking about movies that emotionally connect, this one (and all of Innaritu’s movies) is extremely easy to beat. I once had a snobbier guy who hated MAD MAX FURY ROAD because it was ‘just’ one long action scene and loved this one (I bring FURY ROAD up because this one is similarly going for a whole ‘it’s an experience and we’re telling the story via action and movement rather than traditional narrative’). I asked them to describe the characters outside of saying Leo is angry and Hardy is an asshole and they couldn’t do it. I then proceeded to explain like five or so FURY ROAD characters and they accused me of projecting. Point is: This is one of those ‘genre’ movies that snobs love: It’s technically a genre movie but it removes what makes those genre movies work/fun to watch/read so now it’s art and lowly trash. Also it tells a story that’s been told a billion times before but they don’t consume any of said genre so it’s all new to them and they praise ‘the artist’ who made this boring one as re-defining it unlike all those trash-mongers who’ve been making them for years/decades. Sometimes that works (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) most of the time it’s not my cup though (this one )

    -Side discussion: Critics/Snobs also love it when a genre director starts making ‘regular’ movies. I remember when there was legit Oscar buzz for Sam Raimi RE: A SIMPLE PLAN and so many critics where praising him for ‘growing up finally.’* Same exact comments were made for Tim Burton RE: BIG FISH. ‘Thank god you stopped making those interesting and unique movies that only you would make! Now you can make the same exact movie that everyone else makes! Coincidentally those are the exact movies I want to watch!’
    *Paraphrase our then local critic on Raimi RE: A SIMPLE PLAN ‘He finally stopped making those lowly horror pictures with the ‘look at me, look at me’ camera movements’

  41. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 16th, 2018 at 1:32 am

    Oh shit and I had finally made up my mind to finally watch this after all because I discovered both Tom Hardy and Paul Anderson are in it. Now you guys are making me lean the other way again. I always knew it wasn’t exactly my type of film, but now you’re telling me it’s not my type of film AND it sucks? Guess I should just take a trip to the Woo zone instead

  42. Gaul, It’s a very well-made movie, so for that (in MY opinion) it’s worth watching. Just note that it is not the straight-forward badass pic we like here, this is the arty-farty reviewing the badass pic we like. What I’m saying is.. the costumes in this thing are off.the.charts!!

  43. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 18th, 2018 at 7:22 am

    Costumes you say? Shouldve said so earlier, I would have checked this out months ago! I love me some tasty costumes!

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