Wednesday, 24 February 2016

He May Not Come Back This Time

A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

The Revenant is a brutal hymn to the beauty and terror of the natural world. The movie opens with a moment of serene beauty - almost Terrence-Malick-like. This film is filled with striking passages of pure cinema, it has some of the best cinematography my eyes have ever seen and I mean that. These scenes help the audience overcome the film considerable length and extreme carnage at time. There were moments in this very lengthy runtime where I gazed in awe watching some of the shots they were able to accomplish and I genuinely do not understand how they got them. 

Revenge, as goes the old Klingon proverb, is a dish best served cold. This movie is as much a film about revenge as it is about men. An epic about the existential extremes, human beings will go to for revenge. Well, that and witnessing one of Hollywood's biggest stars endure a Passion of the Christ-like beating from man, beast and nature. The near constant threat of death from predators, starvation and exposure, combine into an impressive study of Human endurance and isolation that makes up the film's strong midsection. 

Most importantly Leonardo DiCaprio's raw performance helps elevate what could have been just another man-versus-nature drama, even if he has very minimal dialogue and most of it is not even in English. This man has done everything at this point, but still manage to constantly surprised us. Though, no ones ever seen him suffer for his art quite so vividly on screen before. Now onto this Oscar nomination. He should have won a few time at this point and most of us are rooting for him with all our hearts; but right now it doesn't really matter anymore. A statuette doesn't actually matter. However, the performances he's been given us in his movies: THAT matters. Moreover, the supporting cast is uniformly terrific, from Domhnall Gleeson to Will Poulter and, of course, Tom Hardy.

Tom Hardy is in fact also very good, even if his lines are the least intelligible element of the masterfully brilliant sound design. He tends to fall back into this habit he has to mumble - sometimes hitting Batman-Bane or Mad Max-Max level. 

Generally immersive movies enclose, they put you inside, they dunk you down into what it is supposed to feel like. Here, the cinematography do the opposite: it exposes you to the elements. You are out in the cold, in the snow, under this grey sky. The imagery, with these primal landscapes and impressive natural lightning, is sublime. Some director may have been tempted to follow an Oscar win by a cushy comedy; But Alejandro Gonzàlez Inàrritu pushed himself and his crew to the limits against the elements. He defied conventional wisdom by shooting with natural light only, in chronological order and by doing so, has emerged with something we have never seen before. You almost feel uncomfortable watching this film for entertainment. The Revenant is filled with mesmerising violent piece of action choreography. The fights were dirty. Especially one jaw-droopingly limber steady-cam shot which pursues a character until he's killed, then switches to the killer until he's dispatched too and so on. It would look like showing off if it weren't so effective. 

No spoilers, but this scene involving a bear is an amazing achievement. I don't know how they did it. I have no clue. When it was over, it took me a few minutes to lift my jaw off my lap. This scene is intense in the sense that it looks actually real. This film is so realistic that you would never ever want to hike in the woods if you see it, ever again. 

Overall, The Revenant is a filmmaking triumph. You cannot afford to miss experiencing this on the big screen. It's a brutal, disturbing, violent movie in which it is one man against nature, and nature is not playing nice. 

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