I feel that the concept of the Academy Awards is comparable to that of a middle school talent show.
The only difference is there’s a lot more money surrounding these recipients and most of them are adults wishing to be validated by some larger institution that has a set standard for what “excellence” means. I guess certain categories can really exemplify aspects of what makes cinema great, while others feel like they are decided by a jury who felt that the actor who cries and screams the most is the best. Films like Star Wars, King Kong (1933 and 2005), Avatar and others earned theirs because they were groundbreaking and/or incredibly skilled with what they could accomplish. The Godfather is a classic, and Marlon Brando disappeared into the persona of Don Corleone. But it’s hard to take the Academy seriously, in my opinion, when Al Pacino wins for overacting (hoo-ah!) or Sandra Bullock wins for (gasp!) playing a Southern mom in an average drama about Michael Oher that would’ve been at home on ABC Family! In any case the subject of today, The Revenant, is a film where the lead actor, resident baby-face Leonardo DiCaprio, should finally win that Oscar even if he doesn’t scream or cry the whole way through.
1823, Western territory. Frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is out on a fur-trading expedition when his party is brutally attacked by a band of Native Americans, leaving himself, his half Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), the uneasy John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and a few others alive. After Glass is viciously mauled (read: curb-stomped) by a grizzly bear and Fitzgerald does a very bad thing to his wounded comrade’s son, Glass is left for dead in the wilderness. Freezing, crippled, and hunted by angry natives, Glass adamantly refuses to die as he fights to get back to civilization with only one thing on his mind: revenge.
For starters, this is a very cold film and I mean cold.
It isn’t artificially cold, but sensationally cold. Emotionally cold. The film is dotted with frigid locales and imagery all reflected through a bluish color palette. You, the audience member, feel the weight of this movie like the endless stretches of snow seen throughout the film. Believe me, this was a very hard sit, ‘cause this movie is a grim one. DiCaprio (and the whole cast, really) spend their time up to their ears in death. The violence is stark and exceedingly gruesome, and levity is scarce. The bear attack is one of the most violent things I’ve seen in a movie in a long time, and it’s all caught in a single uninterrupted take. No cutting away for taste’s sake, we get to see him get torn apart before he stabs it viciously in the throat for five straight minutes! I guess the trippy dream sequences involving Hugh’s late wife act as breathers, but that just contrasts the endless ferocity of Hugh’s journey. Out on the frontier, there’s nothing to distinguish you from any animal. You fight to survive, or you die.
“I appreciate the director, Alejandro G. Inarittu, for using actual Native American actors for the scenes when those characters were on screen.”
Now I’m sure seeing a movie about the human spirit reduced to its base instinct and the brutality of the American frontier isn’t prime escapist entertainment like The Force Awakens, but hang in there for the experience. The film is absolutely gorgeous in all its freezing glory, and the attention to detail is commendable. I don’t know, but I appreciate the director, Alejandro G. Inarittu, for using actual Native American actors for the scenes when those characters were on screen. It just feels more authentic that way. Another interesting element is that the lighting is all natural. That means that the crew had to be in a certain location at an exact time to make sure the lighting was right! In the freezing cold of the Canadian wilderness! Wow!
But the best part is undoubtedly DiCaprio.
This guy toughs it out for the whole movie, trudging through snow, washing down a roaring river, just about anything the director could throw at him. He doesn’t even scream or cry that much, because there’s no one to yell at! Even though he’s silent the entire movie, he carries it all the way through. The fact that this pretty actor (along with other similarly pretty people) grew a scruffy beard, dressed in animal skins, had gallons of fake blood dumped on him and ran around the frozen wastes of North America with barely anyone else on screen with him at a time still manages to be compelling earns him an Oscar. I hope to God this is that victory.