Saturday, January 9, 2016
Visceral Approach to Filmmaking: The RevenantBy Tinsel & Tine Contributor Mikhail Revlock
The plot of THE REVENANT does not benefit from summarization. It’s 1823. A band of trappers and hunters are wandering about the Louisiana Purchase when they get ambushed by a tribe of Arikara Indians. Half of them survive. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is among the survivors. He’s a quiet man, visibly haunted. He’s one of the more experienced members of the party. Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), his half-breed son, is never far from his side. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) sees them conferring in Pawnee and assumes they were involved in the attack. Glass gets mauled by a bear. Fitzgerald kills Hawk and buries Glass in a shallow grave. Glass seeks revenge.
Unlike The Hateful Eight (click for Review), which relies on a complex network of masquerades to generate suspense, The Revenant is driven less by narrative than the pure thrill of immersion. The ghostlike camera follows the action in long, unsparing cuts. The horror of the ambush is immediate and harrowing, the arrows flying into necks and foreheads with jolting speed. The same goes for the bear attack, the most realistic application of CGI I’ve ever seen. Without providing a lot of information about the characters, this visceral approach to filmmaking engenders a good deal of empathy for Glass as he struggles to survive the harsh climate and ever-proximal threat of violence. I give most of the credit to Emmanuel Lubezki—the brilliant cinematographer behind Children of Men, Gravity, and Birdman—for this effect. Credit is also due, however, to the performances, of which DiCaprio’s is a particular stand-out. The former teen heartthrob has grown into a formidable actor, and he excels in this mostly nonverbal role.
The production was, by all reports, an especially demanding shoot, up there with Apocalypse Now and Aguirre, and DiCaprio spends a good part of the runtime crawling across snow-covered Montana landscapes, communicating predominantly with slobbery grunts. Hardy also acquits himself admirably, likewise mostly indecipherable due to an extremely heavy accent.
Bottom line: The film is a tad slow at times. Alejandro González Iñárritu, who helmed the aforementioned Oscar darling Birdman, is infamous for his overindulgence. One gets the feeling that they shot so many beautiful nature shots, he was loath to excise any of them from the final product. It is a meditative film, and it looks incredible on the big screen, but it would have benefited from the intermission with which Tarantino splits his western. One can only admire so much natural beauty before going a little stir-crazy.
|Actor Will Poulter plays a young trapper stuck between a rock and a hard place in "The Revenant". He attended the Philly screening in University City Cinemark for a post screening Q&A 12/1/15|
Still, if you’re going to see one western this year, "The Revenant" is a far superior film to The Hateful Eight, which crumbles under the weight of its myriad empty provocations. Iñárritu’s film is not groundbreaking or particularly complex, but it is an impressive feat to behold, reviving one’s belief in the ability of cinema to provide total immersion in a world without the use of 3D gimmickry.
T &T's LAMB Score: 4 outta 5
Mikhail Revlock is a freelance journalist and fiction writer. His hobbies include bicycles, books, and food. A Philadelphia native, he lives in University City with his girlfriend and two cats. Be sure to check out past contributions: Reviews: The Hateful Eight, The Secret in their Eyes, Room Sicario "American Sniper", "Beyond the Reach", "Run All Night", "Horrible Bosses" "Jupiter Ascending"Interviews: "Dear White People" director Justin Simien and Kevin MacDonald "Black Sea". Event: Insidious Chapter 3 4 D Experience
Tinsel & Tine (Reel & Dine): Philly Film, Food & Events Blog