Monday, 1 February 2016

The Revenant review

With Leonardi DiCaprio finally on track to win an Oscar; that much seems inevitable, I think it's the perfect time to review the Revenant. Hit the jump for my review...

I've now seen the Revenant twice; first in an opening weekend late-night IMAX special; with a handful of committed cinema-goers and fans. The second in an absolutely packed sofa-cinema (the Dominion if you're wondering) filled to the brim with people unawares of the content of the film before they went in. These experiences were very different indeed. The IMAX had the volume; I felt the need to yelp out loud at some points, such is the power of this film; and the audience were well behaved, silent, and in awe. The latter was filled with coughing, munching, and talking middle-class Edinburgers who eventually shut up.... it did have it's advantages though. The extreme and sudden violence, which I was expecting based on my first watching was amusing to see played out in a packed cinema. Gasps and muffled 'oh shit's' could be heard all around in the surround sound of a cinema. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that cinemas still do survive. The communal hilarity of a comedy, the shared fear and jumps of a horror, or the gasps of disbelief at the violence. Sitting in a 1930's originating cinema; rotting and disintegrating; it felt almost prophetic that I sat among around a hundred people at least, and we were bound together by this shared experience. Will cinema die? I hope not. It's not even been around for a century, and already it seems to be in extreme decline; the internet has fucked it. Nah, in fact, scrap that: we all must appreciate the internet - but also acknowledge that buying cinema tickets and DVD's keeps this art alive people.

I'm gonna say something I don't usually say at the start of the review - the rating. The Revenant will get 5 stars. In this review, there's inevitably going to be much comparison with the Hateful Eight - these films are practically twins thematically, and visually. I also gave the Hateful Eight 5 stars, and for very good reasons - I absolutely adored it. In fact, I think it's on a level playing field with the Revenant. But, there's one thing for sure; in a hundred years time, it won't be talked about in and of itself. It may be invoked by the study of Tarantino - but not of it's own merit. And that's OK. But the Revenant? When I am long dead; and you are long dead, and nobody that is on this planet is living anymore, and they are almost completely forgotten; the Revenant will still be there. It will still be played in theaters, or on modern technology, and it will be discussed, and it will be studied. It makes me sad, knowing that tonight will likely be the last time that I will see it in it's cinematic glory - on the big screen. Such is life, I suppose. I came out of the Hateful Eight revitalized and optimistic for the future of cinema. I came out of the Revenant, and wanted to cry with happiness about the sheer potential of the medium of the film.

You all know the story, I presume. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a mostly true version of 19th Century Frontiersman Hugh Glass. Glass and his band of fur trappers were ambushed and decimated by the vicious Ree tribe. With barely anything, they trekked across the wilderness, until Glass was viciously mauled by a mother bear protecting her young cubs. Whilst just beginning to recover; he is left for dead by John Fitzgerald - played by an on form Tom Hardy - who also kills his son and flees with a misinformed boy. Yet soon Glass is able to crawl out of his living grave, and begin his quest for revenge. It's a true story, well, true-ish I suppose - there's a lot included, and a lot missed out but the gist is there.

Following on from Birdman was never going to be an easy task. You know that was only a year ago? Only a year ago the critical and commercial world exploded over what was essentially a gimmick - a five star gimmick in which Lubezki filmed a 1.5/2 hour film to look like a single take. It was hypnotic, dazzling, and more than a little impressive. And here he takes some of that trademark skill and transfers it to a 19th Century frontiersman western. The result is strange; but appealing - think a hallucinogenic future Western set in the past if you possibly can. The camera swoops and ducks around the action, hovering around faces for nervous, haunting close-ups before departing to extreme violence. The natural-light shooting  process that is well known already gives an eerie and beautifully poignant feel to the whole two and a half hours; and the dream sequences are especially stunning (one involving a destroyed church is beyond perfect). Also worth mentioning is one particular scene in which flaming torchbearers walk through a misty wood in pitch black darkness. I swear to god, my cinematic life was confirmed by that shot! On top of this, straight cuts to the most stunning landscape shots you've ever seen (and I really mean that) provide moments of extreme awe and pleasure to audiences - one wonders how such an incredible piece of work has got this far in the world. These nature shots are just so unbelievably beautiful and perfect; I've seen nothing like it in the cinema (and certainly not in an IMAX theater. In terms of box office success? I mean, this is an arthouse picture, for arthouse audiences. It so happens to star an incredible, and incredibly popular cast who'll attract a large number of patrons to it. But it's a thoroughly weird hallucinogenic film - and I do wonder about audience reactions to it.

The music just adds to the unique atmosphere. To my mind, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is the best motion picture theme song ever created; so I was incredibly excited to find Ryuchi Sakimoto as the composer for the Revenant. His score is trademark Sakimoto - a minimalist, modernist, and emotional suite of pieces that echo his previous work - but also stand on their own as incredible compositions. They're haunting and beautiful; spine-chill inducingly brilliant songs that echo the greatest scores of time. Sure, The Hateful Eight has done the same, but in a completely different way. It's likely that the academy will look upon the actual content of this more favorably.

Next, the setpieces are some of the best I've ever seen. The widely lauded bear attack, in which DiCapro gets mauled, and only mauled, by a humongous grizzly is a masterpiece of  what I can only assume is a combination of CGI; and Leo being thrown across the screen by a number of wires into trees and the like. Don't get me wrong, unlike most reviewers, I could clearly identify CGI in the whole of this bear scene: but it was some of the most realistic I'd seen. From memory, it was just below or around the level of Richard Parker. And I didn't even know Richard Parker was CGI until after the film... so there you go.

In fact, the film is (as you've probably heard by now no doubt) pretty graphic. That hits home harder in the UK, where it received a BBFC 15 certificate. This would usually mean that the violence could be strong; but not absolutely terrible (the Hateful Eight is an 18 if you're wondering). But what it actually means, in technical terms, is that the violence cannot be sadistic or 'focus on the pain and infliction of injury' - not that your average cinemagoer would know this. So perhaps, Joe Bloggs goes into the Oscar tipped Revenant, expecting a little violence, and somebody saying 'fuck' a few times. Maybe some sex? But what they get is an extreme endurance test of the highest level; a plunge into arty, Oscar-worthy torture porn. But torture porn caused by the environment and not (specifically) by another human being. Again, for the second time this month, I am raving over a torture porn film! It is unconceivable, but true.

The first battle around the 5 minute mark is an absolute triumph of swirling camerawork, beauty, and vicious violence - a sentiment which applies to all future battle/fight scenes (and there are a lot). Particularly special mention goes to the final fight between Glass and Fitzgerald, in which gasps from the audience only serve to confirm that it's raw brutality is  virtually unmatched in modern big-budget pictures. Onto the question of acting though, and I think it's fair to say that the standard is ridiculously high here. DiCaprio gives what could be considered a career best, in a career that has seen plenty of incredible acting (Django, Wolf of Wall Street, Great Gatsby, Gilbert Grape, and the Aviator to name a few of his movies that were oscar worthy). His mostly physical, wordless, and agonisingly perfect performance will definitely win him the Oscar - combined with the huge public support for his winning of the accolade, it seems unthinkable that he could fail.

The support for Tom Hardy also seems to be unwavering. There is, however, some sort of problem that I am beginning to find with Tom Hardy - insofar as he plays himself. The now trademark 'Hardy mumble' is not entirely dissimilar to the way in which Clooney repeatedly plays the same character over and over again. If your hearings' sound (pardon the pun), then it's all good; but many will strain to understand the southern drawl of Hardy's accent - and that's likely to pull him from the Oscar. The supporting cast is pretty much flawless; there is not one bad performance in this movie - particular mention must go to Domhall Gleeson for his revelatory work as a 'commander' of the group.

So in the end, the Revenant is as good as you've heard. Combining the incredible beauty of a master cinematographer; and the raw brutality of a postmodern wild-west - with an eclectically futuristic score and acting talent, nobody can deny that the Revenant is set to sweep up big this awards season. Let's hope it gets the recognition it deserves.
The Revenant gets 5 stars!

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