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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Spectre – A Review

Sam Mendes directs Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux and Christoph Waltz in the latest James Bond thriller Spectre. This is James’s 24th, Craig’s 4th and Mendes’ 2nd outing in the series inspired by Ian Fleming’s novels.

The movie begins with an exquisitely crafted opening sequence filmed during Dia De los Muortos or the day of the dead in Mexico City. A parade that is an explosion of colour and energy is given a sombre almost monochromatic appearance and a hypnotic rhythm thanks to Thomas Newman’s excellent score. From there on things go full on Bond mayhem as Craig blows up a building to kill an assassin he was asked to target in a message from M ( a much-missed Dame Judy Dench). Buildings fall like dominos and a helicopter threatens to send scores of revellers below to join the dead that they have gathered to commemorate.  This is also the blink and you’ll miss it appearance of bond girl no.1 the Mexican beauty Stephanie Sigman.

From then on we move to Rome to attend the funeral of the assassin that bond killed and we are introduced to bond conquest no 2. The alluring Ms Monica Bellucci. In between Mexico and Rome there is a lot of bureaucratic shenanigans going on at between M played by Ralph Fiennes who seems to be channelling his inner Voldemort and the new head of internal security C, Andrew Scott who does nothing to hide his villainous side. I think the makers of the film made a massive mistake in cast Scott as the man who would have the keys to the world-wide surveillance system – I mean come on he is Moriarty it is such an iconic role that you cannot help but see his performance as C coloured with Moriarty shades. 

From Rome we are taken on a mostly pointless and unengaging journey as we are introduced to several villainous characters. The Pale King, Hinx the henchman and Franz Oberhauser who are supposed to evoke a sense of Déjà vu but it just seems gimmicky. I completely understand that Mendes wanted to pay homage to the legacy of the Bond flicks but taking visual and character cues from previous outings but it just becomes messy. And with his penchant for unnecessary psychological drama which for me was the downfall of Skyfall. The entire back story with the reason for Waltz’s hatred towards Bond just seems half-baked just as Silva and M’s relationship dynamic was in Skyfall. 

The only saving graces with Skyfall were the amazing Adele’s Oscar winning title track and the new Q Ben Wishaw. With Spectre atleast Ben Wishaw is good but Sam Smith’s title track is just plain bad – it even put me off of Sam Smith a little bit and I love his music otherwise. Lea Seydoux as Bond girl is beautiful but she doesn’t have the same screen presence as Eva Green who was one of the most memorable one of bond girls in recent history. Naomi Harris as Moneypenny isnt given too much more than to play fetch and it is infuriating. Is it necessary to crowd the bond movies with so many female characters and giving them nothing more than 1 scene each ? why not have 1 solid female character. Here is an idea to ponder a Female Bond Villain – Mendes if you want to play psycho dramas there – create a female bond villain who is so hell bent on destroying bond and the world along with it just because he didn’t call the next day.  

To me Bond movies are about action, a larger than life secret agent that has almost no basis in reality and almost cartoonish villains with the plot to destroy the world that Bond will stop just in time. All this catharsis of the wounded soldier and his back stories and villains with mommy and daddy issues is just not how imagine the Bond-verse to be. If Mendes wants to do American Beauty he should do American Beauty but not in Bond-verse. And what is it with him destroying all of the famous Bond Symbols? First killing off M in Skyfall and now the iconic MI6 building – WHY SAM WHY! I am frankly done with Mendes’ run with Bond.

Christopher Nolan is thought to have sought to direct a Bond movie before Mendes was handed the reins. His influence on modern action capers is very evident with his hugely successful Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception. I actually think it would be a brilliant Idea to let him have a shot at Bond. I love Craig as Bond but he seems to be over it himself and it would be interesting to see how Nolan would do with Tom Hardy as Bond. Maybe reinvent the Bond series, give us a new origins story even – clearly that hasn’t been done with this one franchise and Nolan is as good a director as any and he clearly seems to want to do it himself.

Mad Max : Fury Road – A Review

George miller directs Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road. Reinventing the series he first directed over 30 years ago with Mel Gibson as the titular Max Rokatansky, Miller turns up the adrenaline to maximum as Hardy and Theron battle for their lives and their belief in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Fury Road is less about Max and more about Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and her escape from the clutches of the evil Immortan Joe who lords over Citadel, a Cliffside community (for the lack of better words). Max who we are introduced to in the opening scene gives us the necessary backstory to those new to the series (like me) and you are led on a crazy chase across what appears to be a cross between the Saharan desert and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He is captured and brought to citadel where is used as a blood bank for the pale skinned war-boys, Immortan Joe’s army. Here we are introduced to Nicholas Hoult as Nux who is so wrapped up in the mythology as concocted by Immortan Joe that he believes that he is destined for paradise when he crosses the gates of Valhalla when he martyrs himself for Joe. Other notable mentions from the cast include Rosie Hutington Whiteley and Riley Keough whose introduction is quite memorable to say the least. I could elaborate on who they are and what part they play in the story but that would be giving away way too much. Suffice to say that they are the key to the whole story.

This movie is intensely insane – in a good way. For instance when Immortan Joe commandeers his army to go on a chase after Furiosa they do so armed with a marching band of sort! But since this is mad max this is no ordinary marching band – there are 4 tribal drummers and a masked hanging flame-throwing guitarist. The effect is simultaneously ridiculous and awesome. Most apocalyptic movies tend to drain the color out of the scenery to imply the inhospitable conditions but Miller and DoP John Seale turn each frame of the vast wasteland into a work of art. The high contrast high octane morning chase sequences are a burnished orange and the night sequences an eerie blue. The shots of Theron and Hardy in close up reveal not only the hardship that life in this hellish-earth entails but also reflects the inner light that burns bright in these two brave souls. Several wide-panning shots had me gasp involuntarily marveling at their stark beauty. Every frame is memorable and the visuals are second to none.

The production design and the design of the vehicles is a work of mad genius. The makeup and costume is one of the most impactful, especially the work that must have gone into making Hugh Keays-Byrne into Immortan Joe, the few times his visage is visible straight on it has such an impact that the feeling is a mix of awe and disgust. The practical effects that went into all the action sequences are mind blowing and can walk circles around any of the CGI Bayhem or any from the avenger’s multiverse.

While this is an out and out adrenaline fest this movie has an underlying structural narrative which takes on themes varying from cult-worship to feminism. This is a movie that gave me a buzz that I can last recall having felt in the opening sequences of TDKR and Gravity but both those buzzes faded out after the opening sequences were over, here the opening sequence as crazy as it is , is tame as compared to what comes later on. This may not be the movie for everyone but anyone willing to watch or unsure whether to see it or not make sure you rush to the biggest screen there is to soak in the madness. Consider me a convert! I cannot wait for what Max encounters next.