I write this actually not wanting to be the voice of dissent but as Oscars near and the actual talk about the actual movies that have been nominated ebbs and flows, The Revenant is being hailed by damn near all and sundry as the front-runner and the best film of the year. I don’t wanna be the voice of dissent because so many twats tarnish the joy of dissent with strategic, unbelievable diatribes against the Academy favourites. Fair play, for once, to the Academy because they very, very rarely pick the best film of the year but then equally as rarely do they have properly bad films in their choice of nominees.
The Revenant isn’t a bad film – only an idiot or a contrarian (so hard to tell them apart) would say as much but not since Watchmen have I seen a film in which it’s central flaw was so obviously it’s director. There is something missing at the heart of this film; Ann Hornaday, writing in the Washington Post put it this way:
“Iñárritu is so consumed by virtuosity that he makes it nearly impossible not to be impressed by The Revenant.
But that’s not the same as being moved or even convinced by it…”
This, I think, is the core of my problem (the key word being “convinced”). It wants so much to be given an Oscar that it has gone to the ends of the Earth to get it. Some way in, there is the much talked about scene in which DiCaprio eats the live fish, hungrily tearing it apart with his teeth. Something catches his attention, he stands up and looks off-screen and to his left there is a whacking great hunk of Magic-Hour-coloured sky and as I was watching it, I couldn’t help but notice that there was more than enough space and time to plonk a big title card reading “FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION”! I kind of half believe that Iñárritu might’ve said that at some stage along the line aswell.
Before I get hunkered down in my issues with the film, let’s talk about the good stuff and that fish scene contains one of the films shining qualities because the fact of the matter is – DiCaprio is great! He is committed to this movie and I think if anyone is being honest in this, it’s him. He has really been put through the wringer but not just that, his heart and soul is in this and I shall be disappointed if he doesn’t get the Oscar. He injects Hugh Glass with dignity and intelligence but no bullshit.
… continued well after Oscars is all over. He did get it. You might’ve heard.
The negatives are manifold, however! For a start, it took me a full hour to start to get engaged with the film and even after that, I was only sporadically into it. There just seems to be a gaping hole at the centre of the whole venture and I suspect it is thus:
The trailer begins with meaningful words written in a really portentous font; “HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO…”
Flash up images of characters (and by extension, actors) struggling meaningfully…
“TO GET ANOTHER OSCAR?”
Shot of character (née: nominee) straining to grasp something offscreen that is just out of reach…
“THE NEW FILM BY ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU”
To elaborate on the Watchmen comparison, the problem with that film was that it was beautifully shot, stunningly designed, really well acted and yet I sat through the whole thing thinking that there must be more to this story than the surface I’m being given. Someone wasn’t doing their job because I spent three hours thinking that the comic book must be really bloody interesting. I could see that there were fascinating ideas afoot but Zack Snyder just wanted to show me explode-y things and some Cold War references which were an apparent substitute for depth.
Similarly, with The Revenant, I just see an awful lot of stuff that looks deep but doesn’t actually tie together into anything substantial. Gnomic dream sequences showing that Leo has yet another dead wife and themes of man vs. nature are things we have seen many times, done better. The inevitable retort to such complaints would be that a lot of people worked really hard on this film and so who are we to say anything other than that it is completely brilliant? Well, firstly: we know that an awful lot of people went above and beyond the call of duty and by the sounds of things, they got past a point where they didn’t really want to do that anymore; hence, outcry from union reps in Hollywood. Secondly, again, someone wasn’t doing their job of actually stitching together a subtext and an expression of himself that he wants to give to the world. That person is Iñárritu who, I suspect, above and beyond Oscars, just wants to be seen as part of the pantheon of great filmmakers. He has great work in him (just look at Amores Perros) but he seems to be confusing greatness with imitating great directors as opposed to ploughing his own furrow and expressing himself. The Revenant was many things but personal it wasn’t. Or at least, definitely didn’t feel like it. Thirdly, if you make a film, no matter how personal it is, no matter how hard the shoot is and how much of your life you gave up for it – you want it to to be seen by an audience. That is why it goes to cinemas, that is how you get to make the next film and every film director has something of the narcissist in them to some Tarantino or another (“degree”! Sorry). There’s often nothing wrong with that but it should not be used as a stick with which to beat the people who don’t care for your work, particularly if you apparently don’t care what anyone thinks.
Not that Iñárritu has done this third thing at all, to my knowledge. Why would he? The film has been roundly praised to the hilt and I certainly don’t think it is dogshit as stated at the start. The bear attack is rightly praised – it’s an incredible piece of action filmmaking and therin lies my main thing. I wish it had been just that. The moments when I was most engaged were when it stopped trying to show me how the world works and got down to the business of being a chase-revenge Western. That was when I was most engaged because it was top-notch genre filmmaking! Chases through the trees and the encounter with the French hunters are all fantastic set pieces but for every one of those, we get three scenes of Leo’s struggle which is supposed to tell us about the human condition and it doesn’t. It tells me that some bloke had a really hard time once and that gets you awards.
There is a better film in there. I just wish that the director would pull his head out of his arse.