director Alejandro G. Iñárritu
viewed: 01/10/2015 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
First and foremost, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant is a tremendously beautiful-looking picture. As shot for Iñárritu by Emmanuel Lubezki in all natural lighting, on location in Canada, the US, and Argentina as stand-ins for Wyoming/South Dakota/not-entirely-sure?, it’s gorgeous, from the landscapes to the close-ups, to the camera movement and tracking shots. Lubezki also shot Iñárritu’s Academy Award winning Birdman (as well as many other notable films).
It’s true that The Revenant was inspired by true events. Adapted from a 2002 novel by Michael Punke whose story was based on events from the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass, some of the film’s most craziest aspects have connections to fact and history. But The Revenant isn’t just about someone who fantastically cheated death after a bear mauling and being left to perish, it’s a story of revenge.
Leonard DiCaprio suffers like a super-trooper, having had his son killed by the ruthless Tom Hardy (proving again that his version of Bane wasn’t the only character he’ll play speaking as if with a mouthful of marbles and nails).
At 156 minutes, it’s hardly a lean picture, but it is lean in its story. The film adds aspects of a more complex and empathetic depiction of Native Americans. In this case there are the more vicious Ree who are slaughtering whites looking for a kidnapped daughter and the more peaceable Pawnee with whom DiCaprio has had a child (the one Hardy stabs). DiCaprio is aided by another Indian when suffering a grueling infection, one he later sees hung by cruel Canadian whites. The film is certainly revisionist but what it actually is trying to say re: first peoples isn’t necessarily clear to me.
Two of the film’s biggest shots are ironically digital. The bear mauling, of course, is a big CGi mama bear. And when DiCaprio takes his horse over cliff to escape a siege of unfriendly natives, that’s CGi too. Of course these are CGi. You’re not going to get this scene, either of them, with real animals, and they are well-done, too. But I felt this somewhat undercut the “natural light”/”no digital manipulation” a bit for simple and obvious reasons.
The upshot? I thought it was a very good movie, the cinematography is tremendous. I took my kids to see it and they both thought it was good as well. Will it win an Oscar? Will DiCaprio? The day we saw it it won Golden Globes as did Leo. My guess is that it will probably do so with the Oscars as well.
I think it’s interesting that two major Westerns came out in 2015. A genre is not a dead horse yet, CGi or actual.