Last week, the Academy announced their nominations for this year’s Oscar Awards. After viewing the nominations for Best Picture, I realized that this is one of the first years where I am able to honestly say that I have seen a majority of these films prior to the nominations. In the next few days, I hope to put out a review for every film nominated in the Best Picture category.
Last year, Alejandro G. Iñárritu took home the awards for Best Picture and Best Director for Birdman, while many of his colleagues took home awards of their own for their work on the film as well. Iñárritu proved himself to be a rising legeng. Watching Birdman was one of the most enjoyable experiences in theaters for me last year. Never mind the excellent acting (which got snubbed by a guy in a wheelchair) and story, the technical aspects of this film alone turned me into an awestruck toddler. Birdman was an amazing experience and I urge everyone to see. It totally deserved every award it received and was definitely snubbed in a few other categories, but I guess no one wants a repeat of the 2004 Academy Awards, in which The Return of the King swept the floor.
This year, Iñárritu finds himself in a similar situation with The Revenant. The film has been nominated for 10 different Awards: including Best Picture, Best Director, and a handful of acting and technical nominations. I can’t say that I’m surprised, this was definitely the film I was looking forward to the most this year, given how much I enjoyed Bridman. This film advertised itself to me as the dark and gritty version of Bridman. That being said, if you read my last rant/review, you would know that Sicario is still my favorite film of the year. That should let you know that, ultimately, I was pretty disappointed with The Revenant, even though I fully expect it to take many of the awards it has been nominated for. Now, let’s jump into the review:
Simply put, there is not much to the story of this film, which should come across as a surprise given its nearly two and a half hour run-time. If you’ve seen any trailers for this film, you should have been able to deduce on your own that this is a revenge story, if not, then you may need to go back to your high school Lit Class. Unfortunately the film does not bring anything new or exciting to the revenge story trope. The film also tries to tell a potentially great Man vs. Nature story, much like The Grey, starring Liam Neeson, did back in 2011. However, a well done Man vs. Nature story does not include a protagonist with nearly “Wolverine-like” survival skills. If I know this film is about revenge, why should I be worried about the protagonist when he’s in a situation that doesn’t even involve the party he is supposed to be seeking revenge on? The film is constantly trying to build suspense when most audiences know there is no real reason for suspense (although I may be overestimating most movie-watcher’s ability to pick up on these kind of things).
Everyone is great. I expected a lot from this studded cast, and they all delivered. Given the legendary stories being told by crew-members, I expect to see a great “The Making Of” documentary in the next couple of years. Although DiCaprio did not have a lot of speaking lines, I suspect he will still take the Oscar for Best Actor through his physical acting alone. The only problem I have with the acting is that it becomes difficult to understand the two main characters when one has his larynx slashed for half of the movie and the other is being played by Tom Hardy, who, as I’m sure you know, has become infamous for playing characters that purposefully go out of their way to make everyday communication a stressful brain-game.
Yes, the cinematography is excellent. Yes, it is a beautiful film to watch. Yes, it will probably win the Award for cinematography and direction. Yes, that does make me sad to admit, because I still want Sicario to win very badly. And yes, in case you were wondering, I am still bitter that it was only nominated for 3 awards; but this is supposed to be a review for The Revenant, not a rant about how much the Academy is just utterly wrong.
The score for the film is… interesting. It is very minimalist, but still plays a huge role in engaging the audience. This is reminiscent of the “score” from Birdman (which only featured a jazz drummer…well, playing drums), which worked extremely well then. I did not think that this score worked as well for The Revenant. If he envisioned the score to be as “ground-breakingly different,” as it was in Birdman, then he should have gone all out and only used “natural” sounds and music (i.e. snow falling, trees cracking, angry Indians beating on war drums and yelling war chants, ya know? The stuff you hear everyday).
X-Factor: 1/10, No David Attenborough
For the unfamiliar, David Attenborough is one of the most iconic voices of our time. He is probably best known for narrating nature documentaries on the BBC, especially Planet Earth. I loved every minute of Planet Earth until I was sure I had seen every episode at least twice. The reason I only watched each episode at least twice is because it can get boring hearing the same thing over and over again; which is exactly why I’m only going to make this joke one more time… David Attenborough should have been narrating this movie because it is a DAMNED NATURE DOCUMENTARY!
By far, my biggest problem with The Revenant is the lengths to which it goes about masturbating to itself. “Oh, but it’s shot on location and only uses natural lighting! It’s a cinema masterpeice!” The people that say stuff like this may be correct, but the problem is that there was still a story trying to be told. When you are shooting a character who is near death and walking through the woods, you don’t pan away from him because you noticed that the landscape behind you was much more interesting to look at rather than the character’s currently unfolding story. That’s like going to the movies and taking the time to admire the upholstery on the theater seats in the middle of the film! One of my favorite reviewers, Chris Stuckmann (check him out on YouTube), said it best by stating that several scenes “come off as being very pretentious.” Stuckmannn used the polite version of, “hey, Alejandro, can you not touch yourself while watching your movie? It’s weird.” I totally get that this film was an incredible feat of cinematography and editing, but when that becomes your focus (which, in my opinion, was most definitely the case with this film), you need to take a step back and ask yourself, “what do I really want to accomplish with this film?” Who knows? Maybe Alejandro G. Iñárritu accomplished everything he wanted with this film. All I know, is that I was dissatisfied and expected more.
The Revenant was a treat to watch. I fully expect it to win the awards for Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Cinematography (please shed a tear for Sicario when it does). However, my first viewing of The Revenant was with a large group of friends who also love films. We felt, somewhere along the halfway-point in the run-time, that it was okay to pause the movie and take a break from it for nearly an hour before returning to finish it. If that doesn’t tell you anything about the film, then I’m just beating a dead horse by now. Had the film focused on its story and cut out some of the fat (i.e. the nature shots and vague visions), it would have been a very enjoyable movie with a somewhat normal run-time. Instead, this two and half hour film is filled with what seems like at least an hour of nature footage featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and very odd dream-like sequences that are either references to meaningless backstory or lectures to the audience about the mistreatment of Native Americans (as if we haven’t seen that before).