The Revenant – A Review

Alejandro G Iñárritu directs Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy in the gruesome survival tale The Revenant based partly on Michael Punke’s novel by the same name. Set in the 1820s in Montana and South Dakota’s harsh winter wilderness it is the story of Dicaprio’s Hugh Glass as he leads an expedition of Fur trappers which is attacked by the Arikara tribe of Native Americans who are out to avenge a kidnapped tribeswoman.

 

Leonardo Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass an experienced hunter with knowledge of the terrain, Tom Hardy plays hot-headed hunter John Fitzgerald, Domhall Gleeson plays captain Andrew Henry and Will Poulter plays Bridger one of the two young boys on the expedition the other being Glass’s Native American son Hawk.

When the hunting party is attacked by Arikara tribesman they make a hasty retreat back to their boat with their fur pelts and escape downriver. This drives a wedge between Glass and Fitzgerald who both have different ideas on how to get to safety. The crew trust Glass especially since Captain Henry seems to trust Glass implicitly. Fitzgerald is a poisoned presence from the very beginning and his nagging and antagonising of Glass only increases after the crew abandon the boat and hide the fur pelts to travel light and come back with armed reinforcements. Fitzgerald however agrees to stay back with Bridger and Hawk to care for Glass after he is mauled by a Grizzly Bear. What follows after is a harrowing tale of how Fitzgerald’s greed compels him to kill Hawk, leave Glass for the dead and lie to Bridger about approaching Arikara tribe and beat a hasty retreat to the barrack outpost to collect the money promised to him by Captain Henry if they stayed and gave Glass a proper funeral. What follows is Glass’s incredible journey from being left for dead to returning to avenge his son’s death. Along the way he encounters obstacles that are impossible to even imagine and seeing how this is partly based on true events it just makes it even more astonishing.

Emanuel Lubezki is gunning for a hat-trick after winning in 2013 for Gravity and in 2014 for Birdman and this year with Revenant his claim couldn’t be stronger. Gravity had that 7 ½ minute opening shot where not a word was uttered and you were given the full extent of the vastness of the space, Birdman had that continuous shot winding down the different nooks and crannies of a New York theatre and The Revenant has this stunning opening sequence of Glass and company being attacked by Arikara tribesmen it is as beautiful as it is brutal and unlike Gravity and Birdman there is fast and furious action here which while adrenaline charged still does not feel fuzzy or rushed, you can almost hear the whoosh of an arrow shooting past you. Lubezki has lit the entire movie with ambient light sources like campfire and candles and using natural lighting and the effect is eerie and haunting. He has shot the unforgiving landscape in a beautiful way, the breaking of the dawn has the full spectrum of colours as your eyes traverse the screen from left to right.  Ryuichi Sakamoto who did the music for Iñárritu’s confounding Babel does the music for The Revenant along with Carsten Nicolai and they underscore Lubezki’s beautiful images with a poignant and restrained original score. At times angry and at times quiet and subtle. The only problem for me is the seemingly choppy editing at the outset where the movie stutters to a start but then the editing becomes more seamless as the story progresses. Iñárritu tries to reach for something more than what the story should be about. At its heart The Revenant is a western revenge epic but by tying in Native American elements Iñárritu tries to elevate the story and in some places he manages to by showing how the native inhabitants of North America were brutalised by British and French who tried to “civilise” them, but then at other places it just becomes a babbling mess with floating dead wives and a pyramid of cattle skulls.

Leonardo and his epic journey towards an Oscar win is perhaps the stuff of urban legends and with this one he has landed another nomination and with a relatively weak field Leo might take one home finally and it is not undeserved. With most of the movie without the ability to speak Leo’s eyes and face do most of the work. He is brilliant here but somehow not as engaging as Tom Hardy is as John Fitzgerald. There are no two ways about it Fitzgerald is a man you hate from the very beginning to the very bitter end but what Tom Hardy brings to this character is so nuanced and almost nauseating is his ability to be the worst person in every scene he is in. if Hardy doesn’t win for Best supporting actor then it will be a bigger crime than Dicaprio being denied another one (in my books Dicaprio should have won for both Blood Diamond and The Departed.)

This is a movie that requires a certain amount of patience to sit through all the harrowing experiences Glass goes through and that is primarily a fault of the editing but there are plenty of rewards to be reaped as Lubezki reaches Deakins’ level of greatness with being able to capture the American wilderness and Dicaprio and Hardy put in terrific performances. Best of the year? Probably not I would take the other Hardy pic of one man’s epic survival against all odds in Mad Max Fury Road but this is still an incredible and important cinematic experience.

 

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Gravity – A Review

Alonso Cuarón directs George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in the space adventure Gravity. Set at 200 km above the surface of the earth Gravity tells the harrowing tale of a crew of spaceship out on a regular mission that gets hit with the debris from a Russian satellite and the horrors that ensue in Zero Gravity.

Gravity has been hailed as the visual masterpiece and the movie event of the year – believe the hype.  From the opening shot till the final closing one not one frame lets you take your eye off the screen. The scenes of the vast open blackness of space interspersed with  stars and other celestial bodies make you realize how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things and at the same time the minute you are on terra-firma the tracking shot shows us what a giant we are when it comes to our existence on earth.

The story is simple – George Clooney plays Matt Kowalski a veteran astronaut on his final mission is joined by the first timer Ryan Stone played by Sandra Bullock. While trying to place the scientific experiment that Dr Stone has been working on in to an orbiting satellite they get news that there is debris from a destroyed satellite headed their way. While they try to abandon their mission and return to safety they get hit by the debris and are set adrift with no communication back to the command center or the international space station. Left with only each other they try to survive in space with depleting oxygen and try and get to a escape pod to return to earth.  Without going into too much details the story is simple as they try against staggering odds to return to earth they get hit by one problem after another and the single shot camerawork draws you into their plight as you stop breathing while they are trying to reach out and grab hold on to a space craft and heave a sigh of relief when they do while getting increasingly frustrated as another crisis looms right ahead.

Sandra bullock in my opinion has never been better. As the harrowed first timer in space who kept crashing her simulator you feel for her and want to her to make safe passage to earth as it begins to appear that the chances are fast diminishing.  George Clooney has a small role to play but he does it like no one else does. There is a certain ease with which he plays every character on screen that no matter what the stakes you are sure he will make it out smiling that smug smile.

But this is a movie that is so much bigger than the big name stars involved. This is a movie which is dead certain to bring Emmanuel Lubezki his first Oscar for his magnificent work behind the camera. Lubezki has been credited with one of the most remarkable scenes ever filmed- the creation of life scene from The Tree of Life for Terrence Mallick. Here he essentially takes the viewer into outer space and spins you around like a sock in a tumble dry washing machine while still allowing you to marvel at the beauty of our planet as viewed from outer space. There are beautiful solitaire sunrises and pulsating Aurelia Borealis. A majority of the visuals are computer generated yet never once do you feel like you are not seeing the real thing. Also essential to the visual experience is the surprisingly effective music by a relative no-namer Stephen Price – however the use of silence is just as effective as is some of the other soaring soundtrack by Price.

There are those who are questioning the veracity of science involved in the making of Gravity and while doing so are missing the point that there are elements that have been exaggerated for dramatic appeal. What lies underneath is the essential human instinct for survival, survival against the greatest odds, odds that sometimes are the demons inside our own mind. Not giving up when there is nothing left to live for and trying with all your might to live to tell your story.

Don’t miss Gravity as it is a masterpiece of why we watch movies – it is to go where few men have ever gone before to be able to experience it for yourself without having to leave the comfort of your plush push-back chairs. Seek out the biggest screen possible and watch it in 3D but put the pop-corn away because when you are not looking there is satellite debris coming your way and you better watch out.