The Revenant, review: ‘Technically brilliant, but empty inside’
09:54 17 January 2016
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His resolve previously weakened in awarding Birdman four stars but our reviewer isn’t letting director Gonzalez Inarritu off the hook this time.
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck and Lukas Haas Film Length: 156 mins
Inarritu may be the only person ever to get an Oscar for lightening up. Prior to Birdman, which wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, he had made his name with four surpassingly bleak films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful). Normal service is resumed with The Revenant, which is theoretically a western tale of revenge and survival but is, in practice, a gruelling assault course for both characters and audience. DiCaprio’s character Hugh Glass spends the two and a half hours being beaten, shot at and attacked by a bear, all in the freezing, snow-covered Missouri wastes chasing after his nemesis Fitzgerald (Hardy).
Inarritu seems to be engaged in a contest with fellow Mexican Alfonso (Gravity) Cuaron to see who can come up with the most remarkable how-did-they-do-that shots. The Revenant contains at least three scenes that you won’t have seen the like of before (unless you’ve seen the trailer of course – it’s is a classic example of all the best bits being in the trailer.) The opening scene – a group of trappers being attacked by Native Americans shot in long, fluid, seemingly continuous takes that sees the camera swoop between flying arrows and desperate man-to-man struggles – is an affront to the senses, as intense as the Omaha beach landing at the start of Saving Private Ryan. It is followed by a real time sequence where DiCaprio is attacked by a grizzly bear that lasts for two to three minutes. It’s remarkable, virtuoso stuff but, much like Cuaron’s Children Of Men, you may wonder if the Making Of film might not be more interesting than the film itself.
Glass has already done his Dancing with Wolves, fathering mixed race child Hawk (Goodluck.) As a result much of his dialogue is subtitled Pawnee and Arikara. When it isn’t subtitled, most of what comes out of his mouth is grunts, wheezes and pained exhalations. Hardy isn’t much more coherent, mumbling and muttering through his bad guy role and generally trying to keep himself to himself. Everybody in this film seems to be locked into their own little survival trip, none of which links together or has any greater relevance, other than to express the brutality with which the west was won and the United States formed.
The Revenant is a film that should inspire both awe and derision in equal part. It is a technical wonder and a miracle to behold but it is overly grandiose and solemn, and its excesses do become ridiculous. One of my biggest regrets in my years as a film reviewer on the Ham and High was weakening at the last moment and adding a fourth star to my Birdman review. No faltering this time: for me, The Revenant is ultimately an empty box of tricks, though it is a very impressive box.
For a review of the Blu-ray release of Hiroshima Mon Amour go to halfmanhalfcritic.weebly.com