Review: The Revenant

revenant

DIR: Alejandro González Iñárritu • WRI: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu • PRO: Steve Golin, Alejandro González Iñárritu, David Kanter, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon, James W. Skotchdopole • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Jack Fisk • MUS: Carsten Nicolai, Ryuichi Sakamoto • CAST: Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Domhnall Gleeson

 

In 1823, at the edge of the new world, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) swears vengeance when one of the men of the hunting party he’d been tasked to protect abandons him alive but mortally wounded after surviving a brutal bear attack. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Alejandro G. Iñárritu offers one better, serving up a frost-ridden western that only copious amounts of blood and testosterone can cool in a riotous and riveting ode to survival.

In the uncharted wilderness of the Americas an expedition of fur traders and trappers is cut short when a tribe of Native Indians ambush their camp to plunder their precious pelts. A melee of arrows, tomahawks and bullets fly as a dizzying long take follows the carnage from foot and across horseback to capture every hack and slash in grisly detail. The up-close and personal approach of unbroken shots provides for a shell-shocking opener and a spectacular warning of the dread ahead.

The weary band of survivors escape across the water by boat but the hot-headed, half-scalped Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is fast to point a finger at Glass and son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) for failing to pre-empt the attack, sowing seeds of discord among the men. Glass remains focused and resolute, despite the doubt cast upon his abilities as a man and a father. It reveals his virtue as a character that will avoid a fight if and when he can with the gauntlet of punishment ahead laying credence to the theme that survival is a requisite of one’s strength of mind and spirit as much as body. Even when Glass is reduced to a bloody pulp after several rounds of merciless mauling by an angry mother bear, in another unrelenting long shot, his will to survive is his greatest weapon (with a little help from a well-aimed bullet and his trusty bowie knife). It betters the beast and even when left for dead drags him back to the land of the living like some vengeful ghost with unfinished business.

Henceforth, it’s a down and dirty ride fuelled by blood, sweat and tears both in front and behind the camera as Iñárritu and co. reportedly tackled harsh conditions across perilous locations, relying upon natural light alone to capture the myth and the mayhem. DiCaprio triumphs in an absorbing to-hell-and-back-again performance that may just snag that elusive Oscar. The supporting players rise to the challenge and excel in their own right, with Domhnall Glesson’s duty-bound Captain Henry and Will Poulter’s impressionable and conscience heavy Bridger adding leverage to the one-man show. The unscrupulous Fitzgerald is embodied by another wide-eyed and wild Hardy performance but the beast is cleverly kept at bay before the inevitable showdown.

At times, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography recalls the majestic vision of a Terrance Malick film (lessons learnt on The New World no doubt), such as in the slow track over a waterlogged forest as Glass and Hawk creep, rifles drawn, towards drinking elk. Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with in The Revenant, a character of its own that adds to the formidable level of realism, and the camera showcases its beauty and its brutality in equal measure. The whispery voice-over of Glass’s wife cheering him on in spirit owes again to the aforementioned oeuvre and excels in complementing Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto’s hauntingly alluring score.

Iñárritu’s Oscar follow-up is a punishing watch that pays off with captivating visuals of realistic action and adventure. The trek may tire some but fortune favours the bold after all.

 

Anthony Assad

16
156 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Revenant is released 15th January 2016

The Revenant – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Birdman

birdman

DIR: Alejandro González Iñárritu • WRI: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo • PRO: Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione • DES: Kevin Thompson • MUS: Antonio Sanchez • CAST: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton

 

The French New Wave erupted in France during the 1950s, chucking all the formal rules of filmmaking out the window. A postmodern and critical cult began with the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Rohmer, who soon paved the way for American filmmakers such as Scorsese, Spielberg and De Palma. After the collapse of the studio system in Hollywood, young directors were left to their own devices and audiences were given a breath of fresh air.

 

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman is an American movie with European sensibilities, focusing more on mood and style rather than narrative. Birdman unfolds like a French New Wave film with its idiosyncrasies and philosophical dialogue. Even the title sequence is reminiscent of Godard’s Pierrot le Fou. Birdman doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table, but it is bursting with so much energy that it can’t help but win audiences over and create the sense that they are watching something entirely fresh and original.

 

The sense of the movie being shot entirely in one take with its complex tracking shots, fused with its rapid-fire dialogue keeps the audience alert and excited. It possesses a vibrant pace that challenges viewers to keep up as it races before our eyes on the screen.

 

And even though the movie is highly eccentric – whether it’s the cinematography, acting or fantasy sequences –  it never leads us astray. In fact, because of its technical tracking shots we feel part of the entire process. The film’s characters are preparing for a Broadway play and as the camera follows them through the hallways, dressing rooms, stage and streets of Manhattan, we feel like we are right there with them. It’s a voyeuristic wet dream. Hitchcock must be jizzing in his grave.

 

From a technical standpoint, Birdman is clearly a tremendous achievement, but we must not forget the actors, who had to stick out the gruelling shoot and not only make it work, but actually enhance it to the next level. Wonderfully cast, Birdman is a commentary on various subjects and one of those is acting itself. In this movie the actors are playing actors and at times it nearly becomes a game trying to figure out if they are in character for the play or not.

 

The acting method and process is superbly demonstrated in a sequence involving Riggan (Keaton) and Mike (Norton), who attempt to get into character during a rehearsal, which is so perfectly timed and natural I just sat there smiling like an idiot.

 

Throughout the film there is a struggle between reality and fantasy, whether it’s Riggan and his Birdman persona, Mike wanting the performance to be so real that he must actually drink real gin or really fuck on stage to succeed, or a strict critic trying to separate (real) high art from Hollywood.

 

Birdman had all the potential and possibility of being a pretentious art-house flick, but because of its sheer vigor and humor it has become a crossover hit and serious Oscar contender. Much like the struggle in the film’s subtext, I’m racking my brains trying to decide if it’s a great fantastical Hollywood picture or a real original film. Can’t win them all I guess.

Cormac O’Meara

15A (See IFCO for details)
119 minutes.
Birdman
is released 2nd January 2015.

Birdman   – Official Website

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