| Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu
There is an agenda behind Iñárritu’s latest epic, buoyed by bravura. This adaptation of Michael Punke’s The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge is not some modest 90 minute biopic that it could have easily been framed into. Not simply infused with awards bait, it’s shot through the heart of it with an arrow, from a horse, while fighting off a hoard of Native American hunters, eating raw bison liver, one armed, before falling off a cliff into a tree. It’s an attention seeking, self-indulgent spectacle that wallows in its own excess and testosterone. This is self-congratulatory cinema, lacking the grace and sophistication of a Malick or Herzog who draws natural comparisons. It’s got a nerve, all right, and not just those all too visibly exposed on Hugh Glass’ body after a vicious mauling by a wild bear – one of the most physically empathetic moments in recent cinema.
With a title of The Revenant, it ultimately comes down to whether you want to root for this man’s odyssey of survival, revenge and redemption against he who killed his son in manipulative cold blood and left him for dead? I have to say that I did, which is down to the intimacy developed with Glass. The hallucinogenic flashbacks are less effective at this than Emmanuel Lubezki’s natural-light close ups; the crack of a frozen horse corpse, the hot breath on a camera lens, an icicled beard, blood soaked ice, the numbing of fingers. We understand the value and honour in this struggle, and we feel the struggle ourselves. The film is overly violent and gruesome, but in focusing on aftermath of the carnage and destruction it elevates the power of Glass’ perseverance.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s commitment to the role cannot be overstated. He has given more well rounded performances before – one’s which were deserving of the Oscar that he is so much overdue – and here he’s diluted to teeth gritted grunting and guttural communications. Yet his raw, visceral, brutal battle against the elements and odds is stirring. Although the sheer number of times that Glass overcomes the insurmountable defies suspension of disbelief and restricts the success of the tense score, which is pleasingly foreboding rather than foreshadowing.
Lubezki’s cinematography for Birdman was a technical achievement, but it eventually disintegrated into a gimmick. Here he is just as ambitious and majestic in his vision, but draws captivation – despite lacking substance at every instance. He captures this open, icy, barbaric wilderness in a way that you never felt a part of with the artificial Birdman. The dazzling landscapes are jaw dropping, immediate and strangely immersive considering their vastness. He and Iñárritu have formed a renowned partnership that here orchestrates around cinematic megalomania through machismo. It’s accomplished and arrogant work, but it often deserves appreciation.