To say that I was excited to see The Revenant is a pretty severe understatement. Birdman was my personal favorite film of 2014, I’m a big fan of director Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu’s work, and all of the buzz for The Revenant had reached a boiling point for me.
I drove an hour to see this film in IMAX, and I don’t regret it one bit. The Revenant is a brutal, visceral experience of the struggle between man and nature, and it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in years.
The Revenant is a beautiful film. The fact that a $135M production used only natural light is probably one of the most impressive aspects, as it makes it so much more of a technological and cinematic achievement than it would have been otherwise. Many shots are absolutely breathtaking, while the use of long takes and fires in order to set the scene just add to the immersion of a very real, disturbing world.
The story of The Revenant is not very complicated, but even so, I’m going to keep spoilers to a minimum. Leonardo Dicaprio’s son is killed, and he is left for dead. What we experience for the majority of the films 2 hour and 46 minute runtime is his journey to return back to his home in a very damaged state – both mentally and physically – after a brutal attack by a grizzly bear leaves him close to death.
Okay, now that I just banged on about how great this movie is, let’s start doing some legitimate critiquing and analysis of what makes this movie good and bad.
The camera work has an interesting feel. Often times, particularly brutal scenes of violence or action are quickly followed up with long aerial shots accompanied by nothing but the sounds of nature. These felt as though they represented that the events that seemed so massive and real were very insignificant in comparison to the span of the massive landscape that it took place on.
The camerawork during some of the action sequences – most of which were done as a single take – had an almost hybrid feel to them. They often were shot with rapid motion, and set a few feet below the main characters, yet moving as if it were a persons perspective. At times, it almost felt like a found-footage hybrid, which I think would technically make this the best found footage movie ever. Of course, it never felt like I was watching an old western Cloverfield, but I got the vibe as though what we were seeing was meant to be the perspective of one of the characters there, not as though we were audience members viewing an event take place from far away. Orchestrating the events and action sequences into one take is extremely impressive, and is aided by the films excellent use of lighting and atmosphere.
One of the very few complaints I had with this film was that at times, the CGI was semi distracting. This could’ve had to do with the IMAX screen, but it was hard for me to not get taken out of the otherwise very real and natural environment. That being said, there was maybe 15 seconds of total screen time where the CG was noticeable, and that’s obviously not going to retract my score of this otherwise great film.
Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance has obviously got a lot of buzz over whether or not he will win the Oscar, but I thought it was more satisfactory than anything else. Yes, he was able to scream and look like he was in pain, but he didn’t do anything that really felt as though he was the standout or what was making the movie great. I think the problem with Leonardo DiCaprio is not that he’s either a great or awful actors, but I think the problem is that he does a solid, passable job in really great movies, but he isn’t what makes them great. Here more than ever, I think that’s the truth.
Perhaps Leo will start doing more collaborations with Innaritu as he did with Scorcese, but to me I thought there were better performances this year such as Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs or Johnny Depp in Black Mass. What’s strange is that while those movies weren’t as good as The Revenant, the performances were what set them apart as opposed to here, where it’s the polar opposite.
It was nice to hear director Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu’s thoughts on using green screen instead of practical effects, as there was a decent amount of controversey over just how hard he was pushing the actors to do certain stunts or pull of performances in such an unforgiving environment, but thankfully he was a talented enough director with the foresight to realize that, “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of s**t”.
We’ve seen time and time again, be it in the Star Wars prequels or any other franchise, when actors are all cozy and comfortable, the performances they offer are often not as good as when you can clearly see them witnessing and living in the enviroment that we experience as an audience.
The Revenant is a genuinely great film, and seeing an original story done in such a well crafted and passionate way with such a huge budget is the kind of film I hope to see more of. It is absolutely worth going out and seeing as soon as humanly possible, and it just surpassed Sicario to become my favorite film of 2015.