Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson
Of the three members of the three amigos, Alejandro Innaritu was the least seen member of the group for a long while in my world. He didn’t have as many movies as his compatriots (Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo Del Toro). Still doesn’t as a matter of fact. And he didn’t have the propensity for commercial filmmaking that those two have shown off. So in my world, where I didn’t have the people to aim me in the director of worldly movies, I didn’t get to his work until Birdman. And when I saw that movie, I had one big question to ask of this successful movie. What the fuck is the big deal? Sure, the movie was immaculately crafted. But so is a Michael Bay movie, and the consensus of his movies tends to be of gleeful hatred. The performances were good and all, but that’s not too hard when the cast assembled is that strong. But watching the actual movie, observing the movie on it’s own storytelling merits, it left a good deal to be desired. It was essentially an empty movie with such a grand depth of empty pretension that is was honestly a little more insulting than Transformers 4. At least that nonsense movie has some lunatic personality to it. This was just a kinda bland, self importantly airheaded movie. It was watchable, on the technical merits and the cast. But jeez, it just left a good deal to be desired. What was odd was that he had another movie coming out a year later, a rarity for him since he usually has big gaps between movies. So a year between them seemed odd. And it wasn’t a small movie that would explain the quick turnaround. This would be his most ambitious yet, on a technical and budgetary scale. And it would also be, on the surface, his most commercialmovie yet. The movie we are here to talk about. That movie is The Revenant, and it’s cold vistas have finally been unveiled to the world.
The basic story of the movie is simple and one that should be right up my alley. It sounds like something Walter Hill or John Milius or Sam Peckinpah would take a crack at in the 70s. Left for dead in the woods, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) drags himself from the brink of death to track down the man who bushwhacked him (Hardy). It sounds like a simple, gritty exercise in masculinity and survival. If anything would shake the self indulgent pretension that wore down Birdman, it would be this. Right? Wrong. Somehow, Innaritu has made a movie even more annoyingly self indulgent and filled with even more empty pretensions. Pretensions that don’t even add up with each other, ending with a moment of thematic resolution so obvious and ham fisted that it’s wild that it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie. How can you not know what themes you’re working with when the ending spells it out for you? Innaritu figures out a way to do just that.
You can see an interesting through line in the movie. One that actually made me perk up at the thought of a slight twist to the revenge formula it had set up for itself. It’s not a simple case of Hardy trying to kill Leo and failing. Leo is on the verge of death for days after a bear attack. He’s left behind by the head of the fur trapping outfit he’s apart of and 3 men are left behind with him to make sure he dies peacefully. They are Hardy, Jim Bridger (Poulter), and Leo’s son Hawk. Hardy, not a fan of Leo, convinces Leo to let him kill him. The reasoning is that the longer they wait in the woods, the better the chance of being attacked by Indians. So to save his sons life, he accepts the choice to sacrifice himself. The rub? His son doesn’t know, comes upon this act, and tries to stop it. Making too much noise, Hardy kills him. Don’t wanna attract too much attention to yourselves, Hardy does what makes sense to his cold blooded survivalist mind. That is actually quite fascinating to me and adds a rub to the simple revenge tale it could have been. Man tries to kill other man, kills the son instead, so the grieving father seeks revenge. But by making Leo almost as equally culpable in the act, you can explore the grief that would no doubt come up in that mans mind. So of course, Innaritu doesn’t delve into that at all. Not even an inkling of it. Which is even more bizarre when you think about the focus on a party of Indians searching for a missing loved one.
The group of Indians searching for a missing girl is like a separate movie that is running parallel to the main story. Maybe this will collide with the story we’re focusing on in an interesting way. It doesn’t. It’s the most cliched way possible. Leo comes upon the missing girl (in the middle of systemic rape, because depth), saves her and they come in the end and kill Hardy in the end. Leo is spared because he did such a good thing. What they could have done, is make Leo a mirror image of sorts for the plight of the Indians. He makes a deal that he thinks will better his people that ends up taking everything he has, having to fight through a brutal world for justice. Nope. Innaritu manages to make the end of the movie just a love letter to the noble savages that he thinks Indians are. Even worse is that the end of the movie has Leo say the apparent theme of the movie aloud, to the camera, in the clunkiest piece of exposition in a movie filled with bad dialogue. The vast majority of the movie I enjoy for the most part. It does work as a basic survival tale. A little too long and slowly paced at points, but the movie hits those beats well enough. It’s just that the movie aims for so much heft that it doesn’t hit them and you feel like you’ve wasted your time. Having the Indians kill Hardy to save Leo from sullying himself is such a waste.
The movie isn’t awful though. It’s a gorgeous movie on such a ridiculous level. Emmanuel Lubezki delivers some top notch, next level visuals in this movie. Using natural light to highlight the gorgeous scenery they are filming elevates the movie to a ridiculous degree. And his camera helps to make the movie real brutal and violent, making it all hurt. The real MVP here is Emmanuel and he deserves the best cinematography award he has coming to him. Much more deserving than the guy being talked about most in this movie, one Leo DiCaprio.
Leo is getting a lot of buzz for this movie, with alot of talk about how dedicated he was to brining this role to life. He ate a real fish guys! That bison heart was real and he threw up because he was a trooper! But what no one is talking about is how absolutely empty his role is. He does nothing in this movie he hasn’t done before. He grunts and whines and squeals in pain. It’s a very angsty performance and it’s something we’ve seen him do. But what he doesn’t do is sell the love has for his son that his quest for vengeance would be believable, nor does he sell the madness one would have to have to do what he does in his journey. He’s the perfect poster child for this movie. Good looking and has the appearance of something more going on underneath, but is empty and bland. Of the cast, Hardy and Gleeson do good work. Hardy does that thing he does, make big choices to make a character that feels big yet human. There’s a little more to him than blatant evil, but is still a basically bad dude with a fucked up set of morals. Gleeson is good as a company man who should be behind a desk but is out in the wilderness out of his element. You can see his beta maleness in the beginning and his shift into taking charge at the end and it’s believable. This makes sense that these two would work in here, since they’ve proven they are good without needing a strong director to guide them into a performance where Leo needs to be shaped into a performance. But if left alone? Leo doesn’t do anything special.
I wish I loved this movie. In the days since seeing it, my opinion has dropped dramatically. It’s still ok and I’m glad I saw it, since anything with Hardy in it is a must see for me. But this does not make me change my tune about Innaritu. There’s a strong sense of Emperors New Clothes with him. His stuff is really pretty and well made, but fundamentally empty underneath it all. He manages to be the best and worst thing about the movie, forming enough greatness to make it worthwhile enough but being too self indulgently pretentious that it doesn’t elevate itself above good. He has no control of his scenes, letting shit drag too long. The bear attack is comically long and is a good scene that stands for the whole movie. Starts good but just runs itself into the ground. And he has no idea how to end a movie. The moment Leo rides a horse off a cliff into a tree and survives, the movie shifted into a bad territory that it doesn’t escape from. And he ends it on a wet fart, not the profound moment he thinks it is. This coulda been something cool and special. And it was. A few years back when Joe Carnahan made it and called it The Grey. See that before this so you know there’s a good version of it out there, with this being the lifeless fuck doll of a good movie.