Monday, January 25, 2016

The Revenant - bladder busting, bloody gorefest

The internal rivalries within a fur trapping gang are stretched to breaking point as they come under attack from Native Americans and the much-diminished group of hunters begin to put their individual survival and profit above the well-being of the others. It’s a tale of arrows versus gunpowder, cross-cultural relations, close combat, plummeting temperatures and dragging yourself along the ground to get home no matter what your body is telling you.
“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe... keep breathing.”
Having survived a CGI bear mauling, leader Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is buried alive as John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) abandons him and heads home to claim his reward for providing a decent burial. The weather is poor, the terrain testing, and as his mother must have warned him, Fitzgerald is reminded “be sure your sins will find you out”.

The cinematography in The Revenant is consistently outstanding. A seat in the front row of the cinema will allow you the perfect vantage point to naturally crane your neck as most shots are captured very close to the ground and allow the lean elongated trees in Louisiana coppices to stretch up to the heavens above the cast. Birds symbolically watch over the landscape. Herds of animals flock around on demand. Trees shudder on demand. The clouds move beautifully as it choreographed with a computer mouse.

In what was publicised as a gritty shoot that stretched the resilience of the cast and crew, there are still a surprising number of special effects. At times The Revenant looks more like a hyper-reality video game than a movie with characters dropping all around during the half hourly visceral battles with their prolonged shots emphasising the blood and gore as much as the bravery and determination. (Though Macbeth would beat The Revenant if there was an Oscar for blood-spurting.) The totally unexpected stunt with the horse close to the two hour mark is breathtakingly brilliant.
“You all have stolen everything from us. Everything! The land. The animals.”

Amongst the grunting and the remarkably clear yet mumbled dialogue (that’s obviously been ADRed on top of the forest soundtrack) there are a few nods to the history and morality of the conflict between pelt-collectors and the Native Americans. A couple of scenes that allow humanity to triumph over cultural hatred stand out against the rest of the binary clashes.
“I ain't afraid to die anymore. I'd done it already.”
The Revenant is unbearably long. Each scene is allowed to stumble along with fifteen or so minutes as the next chapter of grisly survival conflict unfolds. Glass’ resurrection – a third of the way through the film, so that’s not much of a spoiler – is rather unbelievable, as is his avoidance of hypothermia. In the end DiCaprio plays a combination of Bond, Bourne and Bear Grylls that allows his body to be continually punished while he finds nutrition in lichen and animal carcasses to sustain him. Hardy plays Fitzpatrick more like a pirate than a hunter.

For a while it all gets a bit Lord of the Rings with the action rotating around different groups – Glass, Fitzgerald, and the original gang – navigating the harsh environment as they make their way back to the Fort. (For a film set in 1832, there’s a crazy moment of cinematic awareness when one character deliberately breathes out towards the camera lens to fog it up with condensation.)

There’s no doubting the effort that went into the production: real blood, much sweat (and shivering) and plenty of tears. It might have been possible to overlook the absence of empathy built up with the audience if the film had been cut to ninety minutes. But as a 156 minute long slog, I can’t ignore the fact that director Alejandro González Iñárritu gave me no reason to care whether Glass lives or dies, and no reason to care whether Fitzgerald gets his comeuppance. I should be thankful that the final snowy manhunt wasn’t made into a second film.

A lot of people are going to love The Revenant. But be warned: by the end of this film your bladder will be bursting, your stomach rumbling and your fingernails noticeably longer. (Don’t combine those last two and bite your nails during the film!)

The Revenant is being screened in the QFT until Thursday 28 as well as Odeon, Omniplex, Moviehouse and numerous other cinemas!


Siobhan McGuigan said...

Pretty much agree with all of this! Just out from seeing it.

I love survival stories and Westerns, devour books galore of both genres, so I expected this to be right up my street. But as you say, I found a lot of it quite unbelievable, became annoyed with DiCaprio's grunting in pain within about 15 minutes, and for the first time in quite a while when watching a film, I just wanted to get to the end.

Glad I saw it to judge for myself, but was fairly disappointed all round.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Siobhan - Thanks for the comment (such a rarity these days).

We are the only two who agree on this in all the land - everyone else has been taken in my DiCaprio's spell.

Bone Tomahawk was preferable as it was shorter, includes a difficult journey, more laughs (at least in the first part) although it contains suffering (and a really brutal moment that could put you off becoming a cannibal!)