Poor Leonardo DiCaprio: no matter what he does, the Academy just won’t give him an Oscar. I’m not saying he sucks as an actor because on the contrary, he’s possibly one of this generation’s best in the chosen field as seen in his wide range of iconic roles ranging from disgruntled millionaires to racist hicks to a male version of the lead from the anime mindfuck hit PAPRIKA (2006). If he really wants to win that Best Actor trophy, maybe he should go for the most pandering movie script out there instead of gunning for actual innovation, like what Matthew McConaughey did when he took up the role of a racist homophobic bigot who goes through character development thanks to HIV-AIDS.
That being said, his lack of golden naked men trophies is possibly one of the reasons why Leo took up the lead role in THE REVENANT, a movie so neck-deep in Academy Award pandering that it redefines the term “Oscar Bait.” If this move doesn’t rack shit up in the Oscars, then we’re in for a big fucking laugh and more crying Leo memes.
That’s not to say that THE REVENANT is bad. If anything, it’s a good example of showing the cinematic equivalent of poetry. Every landscape shot in this movie helps build the atmosphere of the lonesome frontier plains where nature is the boss and the people living in it (settler or otherwise) are only alive because Mother Nature allowed it. With what little dialogue they have, the characters drive their stories forward by primarily using their actions instead of wasting time discussing the different interpretations of philosophical themes by means of pretentious overlong rambling. When the shit hits the fan, THE REVENANT provides some of the most intense and visceral depictions of a man’s need to survive the harsh elements seen in recent memory, with the opening raid and the bear attack standing tall as the most memorable moments in the film. For those looking for the artistic value in cinema that they feel is missing in the mainstream arena, THE REVENANT is a great place to start looking for that kind of stuff.
If THE REVENANT was merely a story of survival in the dangerous frontier landscapes during the early 1800’s, it would’ve been the perfect (thematically) minimalist companion to the more bombastic Western movies like Tarantino’s last two efforts but the problem with this particular movie are its priorities. THE REVENANT isn’t all that intent on retelling the story of legendary American frontiersman Hugh Glass for an audience in 2016 because, in reality, its real goal is to win all the motherfucking artistic awards out there, and by the looks of it, it’s already halfway there to victory.
I say this because THE REVENANT panders heavily to those who still debate about the differences in the words “film” and “movie” even if such a debate is more unnecessary than anything. It’s loaded with scenes that could have twenty different interpretations, long tracking shots of nature, scenes that could’ve been shortened for practicality’s sake, method acting and a lot more, all of which are more than enough to give all of the aging voters over there at the Oscars a raging stiffy.
The story suffers heavily when the movie decides to add in shittons of padding in between the plot relevant scenes detailing Glass’ pursuit of vengeance. In between the tense scenes that depict desperation and brutality right down to the goriest of details, the movie abruptly cuts to less interesting scenes featuring more artistic shots of the admittedly gorgeous winter landscapes. The same goes for the slower paced character driven scenes, where Glass interacts with the different denizens of the frontier lands but right before any meaningful investment could be developed, the action scenes make a sudden comeback and once more, blood is the priority of the story instead of fleshing out the Native Americans who Glass meets in an RPG styled random encounter. The good moments are so far in between of each other that it tends to be a drag just to get to the meat and actual substance of THE REVENANT.
Thanks to this, the pacing is shot to shit because THE REVENANT is split between showcasing a fast paced tension filled survivor’s tale and a slow burner of a character study set against the backdrop of the unforgiving winter. Here, moments of adrenaline end as quickly as they started to make room for reflections about the human nature that could’ve been cut to shorter yet more poignant scenes if the editor maybe gave more than just a fuck. Rather than lock focus on Glass’ story alongside Fitzgerald’s just for contrasts’ sake, THE REVENANT segues to scenes that would make the same people who saw BOYHOOD as a motherfucking masterpiece instead of the two hour pretentious slog that it was salivate and judging by the movie’s reception, the gamble paid off.
From a technical standpoint, THE REVENANT is fucking impressive. When you have a movie where the production crew used only natural lighting and barely had any breaks in between shooting days alongside some really intense acting methods like allowing your main actor to sleep in a fucking animal carcass, you better fucking acknowledge the amount of dedication in the project. My gripes with this particular Best Picture contender, as mentioned earlier, mostly lie in its execution of an already minimalist story. In a movie that has a story that’s mostly driven by the actions of the cast instead of having heavy dialogues, the story should’ve been fucking focused on what it has to show, not keep getting distracted by pretty shots of trees and snowy mountains or random hostile encounters that aren’t really brought up later on but then again, if the movie was as straightforward as I wanted it to be, it might have only been fifty minutes long without all that excessive tree loving padding. And that’s already including Tom Hardy’s scenes.
Add in the fact that the main human opposition of the story, Tom Hardy’s despicable John Fitzgerald, is more comically villainous than actually threatening and that’s another reason for me to consider THE REVENANT are the Oscars’ version of “style over substance.” Even if he goes on a big murder spree, it’s hard to take the dude seriously especially when his only reason for being in the movie is to be a motherfucking naysayer who just shuts down everything the heroes have to say to the point where his villainous character feels more like a caricature than someone to actually fear. It’s one thing to have a cynical adversary who has no higher purpose outside of money who just genuinely hates everything and it’s another to have a character whose entire dialogue tree is made up snarky comebacks laden with racist derogatory terms and as great an actor he is, Tom Hardy’s character falls in the latter category.
But while I may not be the biggest fan of these kinds of things, THE REVENANT is far from being a bad movie. Even if a good half of the film’s elements felt like they were just marks on a checklist that had to be ticked off in order to gain critical approval, one thing that’s highly commendable here is that it was mostly passion that drove the creation of THE REVENANT.
Sure it’s pretty obvious that these guys want those shiny fucking trophies so bad, but there’s no denying about the amount of artistic value that went into THE REVENANT. There’s quite a lot one can learn from THE REVENANT if they want to make their own artistic effort in the vein of visual poetry and this is a fine example of art being made just for art’s sake… even if the Oscar trophies are a nagging afterthought that never left the production crew’s minds. What makes THE REVENANT a passable Oscar Bait movie for me is its lack of the pretentious bullshit that defines a lot of the genre that people sarcastically call “Fine Art.” THE REVENANT may have been created to rake in the trophies but it was also created to show an artistic and nature obsessed version of the all too familiar revenge story and that alone should give one reason to see it.
Personally, it may not be Best Picture quality and it’s certainly not one of my favorites but it was still something worth giving a shot just to see some amazing talent at the top of their game.
And no, Leo doesn’t get raped by a bear. He gets fucking mauled by it.
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