Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant is much like his previous film, Birdman, only this time everyone gets mauled by a bear and dies. So it’s much better.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Birdman, which you loved because it was one long take (strung together digitally) and had Michael Keaton playing an off-brand version of himself. Also: Emma Stone’s freckles were in it, just dancing around her giant anime eyes like the forest creatures in a Miyazaki picture, and then you got to watch Edward Norton get punched.
It was also, apparently, about something — more or less whatever you wanted it to be about. Much like The Hateful Eight, but with slightly fewer scenes of testicular removal. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki was impressive in an Evel Knievel meets Loki sort of fashion, wowing you and also making sure you constantly remembered that you were being wowed every fucking second.
Which is also how The Revenant plays. Gorgeous North American scenery makes a fine backdrop for bravura fish-eye shots of riders on horseback leaping off cliffs into the mouths of angry momma bears who are struggling through icy rivers to eat the fetid remains of birds that are being shot through with arrows by braves also on horseback, or, once, in horseback when it got really cold. Really cold being a relative term for a film that takes place at the bottom of a frozen river without your pants on. Throughout all this, Leonardo DiCaprio screams and gurgles from his spit-flecked mouthparts and makes that face that means my displeasure is genuine and severe. Seriously. For like the entire film.
It’s a good face. He does it well. Everyone needs a hobby.
The Revenant — a word referring to one who returns from the dead to exact revenge — tells the truthiness-filled tale of fur trapper Hugh Glass. Hugh Glass gets left for dead by his party of enunciation disabled avant-garde hair stylists, one of whom makes an extremely poor life decision and kills Glass’s half-Native, fire-scarred son.
On no! It is on like Robotron. Glass (DiCaprio) will not let anything — not even a severe bear mauling and premature burial — stand between his stabbing implements and his a-cursed wrong-doer, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Meanwhile, a party of local Arikara braves warpath around, attempting to find and rescue the chief’s kidnapped daughter, Powaqa, which you must admit is a really cool name.
What’s your name? POWAQA!
Look. The Revenant is direct. It is simple. It is at times gorgeous and horrific and at other times gorgeously horrific. In it, parents protect their children unto their last breath and beyond. So states the film repeatedly, in a number of ways. Leo seeking revenge for his boy. The chief doing for his daughter. The momma grizzly protecting her cubs. Even poor sappy Domnhall Gleeson trying to protect his men from arrow bite and hatchet sting.
Let’s all count our fingers now, shall we? Still got ten? Well and good.
The Revenant is simply that. Not so much a tale of revenge, but a reminder that while revenge might keep you warmer then the carcass of tenderized horse, it sure as shit won’t bring anyone back from the dead. Unless you’re Leonardo DiCaprio and you’ve got your angry face on.
Watching the film is more experiential than enlightening, which isn’t a bad thing. It reminded me at times of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and then of Ridley Scott’s The Duelists and then of that time my dad dropped the car keys just as the snow plow went by, burying the icy pieces of metal somewhere under six feet of frozen mogul.
It wasn’t a mauling by an angry grizzly bear or a raid by the Arikara, but then I am not a fur trapper and I probably would have been the first person killed in this film if I’d been in it. At least I hope I would be. Living in this film looks absolutely dreadful.
While many are making Oscar noises about DiCaprio, the star of the film is clearly Lubezki. There was one shot in which Leo’s fading breath fogged the lens and I swear I almost took off my glasses as I thought I was there beside him, in the frozen cold, starving. It is clearly a big screen picture and I’m a little morose that it wasn’t shot in 70mm like the other, far less visually impressive, black Western currently in theaters.
They probably couldn’t get the large format cameras inside that dead horse? I’m sure that’s it.
The Revenant. Go see it with your dead son. You’ll both get a good chuckle out of it. If you don’t, you can track me down and kill me for all the good it will do you.