So this is the big film at this years Oscars, the film with all the major awards attention, the film that’s probably going to get Leonardo DiCaprio his long overdue Oscar, a film that came with a lot of production nightmare stories over the decision to film almost entirely in natural light and other decisions made by Inarritu. I have to say though that after watching the film, not only would I not give it any of the Oscars it’s nominated for, I wouldn’t have nominated it period.The film focuses on the story of Hugh Glass. During a mission to gather animal pelts to sell, the team Glass is on is attacked by Native Americans and Glass is one of a handful of people to survive. Later though, Glass gets attacked by a bear and seriously injured, a few of the people Glass is with, including his son, stay behind to look after him. However, one of the men, Fitzgerald, ends up killing Glass’ son and convinces the other person with him, Bridger, to leave Glass for dead. Glass survives though and makes it his mission to hunt down Fitzgerald to get revenge for the death of his son. When the film focuses on this revenge plot, it’s really compelling and it could have been a really engaging film given a 100 minute length. However, this film is 2 and a half hours long and it spends most of it’s time focusing on the environment and the lengths Glass is going to for his revenge. Again, if it was shorter it would be incredibly compelling but it’s not and there were numerous points watching the film where I was looking at my watch waiting for the film to end because I was getting really bored. The problem also comes that there were a few sub-plots in the film which could have justified the length but none of them really get developed. Firstly, there’s a plot regarding the native Americans attacking Glass’ team to rescue the daughter of their leader. The problem is, the film starts with the attack, we don’t see what the daughter looks like until about an hour and a half into the film, in fact there was one point where I thought we’d seen her but it turns out to be a completely different character that could have been cut out of the film and nothing would have been lost. It also feels like this story was included to make a point about the theft of Native American land but this only comes up a handful of times, the rest of the time they’re just a generic threat and could have been replaced by anything. There are also moments when we see Glass’ wife in hallucinations that add nothing to the character and only feel like they’re in the film to give it a greater meaning that doesn’t really exist.
The acting is a mixed bag as well. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a go-for-broke performance as Glass, it’s clear he’s invested into the character and is willing to do whatever it takes to make the character’s suffering believable, although it’s pretty clear DiCaprio is doing this just to get the Oscar as there was no real need for him to any of the stuff, such as eating the raw bison liver. There’s also a great intensity to DiCaprio’s performance, particularly through his desire for revenge and the grief he feels for his son. The problem is, we don’t really get an understanding of who Hugh Glass is throughout the film, only knowing that he’s a wilderness expert and has a strong desire for revenge. We get hints of him being willing to kill others to save his family, even army officers, but those elements were already explored through the relationship with Fitzgerald. It feels like a lot more could be done with the character, especially considering the length of the film. Tom Hardy meanwhile is pretty bad here. Sure he has the physical characteristics that work for the character but it’s with the dialogue that the performance falls apart. Simply put, I could barely understand anything Hardy said throughout the film and considering that a major plot point comes from dialogue Hardy says, this is a major problem and makes a fair few elements of the film not make sense. Domhnall Gleeson meanwhile is engaging but isn’t given much to do, there’s a seed of a character when he cannot kill Glass to end his suffering and asks people to stay behind, offering to pay them, along with his decisions over paying the pelt collectors, but these scenes aren’t enough for the full character. The only time in the film that we get to see a fully realised character is Will Poulter as Bridger. Poulter gives easily the best performance in the film, showing the guilt Bridger feels over having to leave Glass behind, his young naivety shown through his believing of Fitzgerald and his compassion. The writing is at its best when it focuses on Bridger and everything around Poulter’s performance works wonders. Plus, it helps that Poulter is the only actor whose dialogue I could clearly understand.
The technical aspects of the film are really impressive though. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography and Alejandro Inarritu’s direction are on top form but some of the decisions they made completely baffled me, notably the decision to shoot almost entirely with natural light. This added nothing to the film as a whole and the film could very easily have been made without using natural light, there’s no real artistic merit to the decision. It feels like this decision, along with everything DiCaprio did for the film, was done not for artistic merit but to generate conversations and awards buzz for the film (something that seems to be working). Again, these decisions work on a technical level but the story they’re being used to tell has no emotional weight to it. I think the best way to put it is that, whilst watching The Revenant I felt no emotional connection so it didn’t matter to me how arduous everything was (something expressed a lot better than I ever could do by Devin Faraci). Compare that to something like Creed, which didn’t boast about all these technical difficulties but was such an engaging, powerful film that I had to wait a few minutes after the film ended before leaving because I was filled with so much adrenaline. It doesn’t matter how difficult something was to shoot if what you’re shooting isn’t compelling. I will say though that the CG effects for the bear attack are done brilliantly, even if the scene went on a bit too long for the power of the scene to work, and the make-up effects used to show Glass’ injuries are excellent and this make-up did get a response from me with me squirming over how realistic it was, and I feel again this demonstrates my point as the element that got the biggest reaction from me was the element that they had to do artificially.
Overall, The Revenant is such a disappointing film. I went in expecting to see a beautifully made yet harsh survival tale but Inarritu wanted this to be more than the intense thrill ride it should have been and in trying to make it more complex he sucked any meaning out of it. The performances are decent for the most part but the characters the actors play have no personality for them (with the exception of Will Poulter as Bridger) and so it’s hard to connect with any of them, especially Glass. The technical aspects of the film are impressive but they add nothing to the film except to make it look great. There is no emotional weight to anything that happens in this film and it would have worked a lot better as a shorter, more focused survival tale, and I know it can work because Joe Carnahan did it with The Grey, which is a much more powerful, impressive film that this can ever hope to be. This is the textbook definition of style over substance and the fact this has gotten all the awards attention that should be going to films like Creed and Steve Jobs, films that work so well on an emotional level despite their relatively minimalist aesthetic, shows that award voters don’t care about emotional weight as long as the actors put themselves through some difficulties. This isn’t the powerful, intense, emotional, deep film that Inarritu wants it to be, it’s the art-house equivalent of Jackass.
My Rating: 2/5