A new column examines the influences of horror movies & what has influenced them via side-by-side film frame comparisons.
The Revenant. 2015. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith & Alejandro González Iñárritu; based in part on the novel by Michael Punke.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge, Christopher Rosamond, Robert Moloney, Lukas Haas, and Brendan Fletcher. New Regency Pictures/Anonymous Content/Appian Way/RatPac Entertainment/Soho VFX.
Rated 14a. 156 minutes.
Alejandro González Iñárritu is a director I’ve admired for a while. Around 13 years ago I remember seeing Amores perros on television; I went on to get the name of the film tattooed on my wrist, after it became a favourite of mine. Pretty much every one of his films since have been magical, in some way, shape or form. Whether it be the story itself or just the way Iñárritu serves it up for us, the movies he makes are unique and exceptionally made overall. This one is no different.
And while I definitely believe The Revenant is one of the best films of the past 15 years, I wasn’t totally pleased with the story. Lots of fun, no doubt. It’s the distortion of what’s known about Hugh Glass, the focus of the story; I know films get dramatized, and I love parts of what this screenplay added onto Glass at times, yet there could’ve been plenty intensity without all that. Nevertheless, with Iñárritu alongside composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, the immensely talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, plus a host of others including Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, The Revenant has the goods and also gives us an interesting, intensely raw modern Western.
During a trapping expedition in 1823, Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) leads a party of men through the wilderness of America. In the party are John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), as well as Hugh’s son, a native boy named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), among others. After an encounter with the Arikara, a Native American tribe, the hunting party ends up on the run.
The worst comes when Hugh is mauled savagely by a bear before luckily killing it. Afterwards, Fitzgerald suggests putting Hugh out of his misery, though, others are much more willing to try and help. What little they can, anyways. When a young Mountain Man Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Hawk stay behind along with Fitzgerald, Captain Henry instructs that if and when Glass succumbs to his wounds, he’s offered a proper burial.
Only Fitzgerald ends up doing the unthinkable, killing Hawk in an argument, then convinces Bridger with a lie to leave Glass to die, half-buried in a grave.
But Hugh survives. As Fitzgerald and Bridger move back towards an American settlement, Glass tries to hang on. Hoping to cross their paths again.
Between the scenery and Emmanuel Lubezki’s wonderful eye, as well as Iñárritu and his vision, the look of The Revenant lingers with me. All the shooting with natural light truly is gorgeous. And it isn’t just how nice things look either. The forest, the people, everything feels raw and untouched. Nasty even, at times. It makes everything look better in that the stripped down cinematography helps the realism. There are so many amazing sequences, one after another. Possibly my favourite are a couple of the dream-like moments in the screenplay where Glass sees very wild images. I like that there are these surreal pieces thrown in now and then. The whole film has plenty of typical but awesome Western imagery, on top of that Iñárritu shows us these vivid, strange scenes where Glass is almost outside of himself, outside of the world. A bunch of action sequences in the movie are completely worth the salt, including the opening moments depicting a run-in with a Native American tribe which drives Glass, Henry and the others out into the wilderness, down the river. The movie starts off with a big bang. But it’s not like a typical action movie, the cinematography and the entire production just pulls you into that world, the space of these characters so immediately.
Everyone onscreen throughout The Revenant does a fantastic job, even the small roles played by the likes of two actors I love such as Brendan Fletcher and Kristoffer Joner. Then we’ve got Will Poulter depicting Jim Bridger at age nineteen before he went on to become the fabled Mountain Man (though his actual involvement in Glass’ desertion is debated historically); Poulter pulls his weight, that’s for certain.
But the showcase comes from Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio. The way Hardy oozes menace even without saying much is a testament to his acting ability. Apparently he drew from Tom Berenger in Platoon, which I can absolutely see. There’s a great cinematic villain here that will stand the test of time in the Western genre.
DiCaprio gives what is arguably his best performance. No hype. He gives the expected grueling performance at certain times. Then at others there’s a perfect silence about his disposition. We could get bored watching him. Instead, he says what more often than not Glass actually can’t, with his face and eyes instead of tons of exposition. Most of all, the determination is visible at every moment, his inextinguishable courage always present. The vulnerability of Glass’ character, alone in the wild, is also something Leo gets across because of the youthfulness in him, but even more so due to the fact of his nuance as an actor. I’ve always enjoyed the range DiCaprio has displayed over the course of his interesting career. Here, The Revenant gives him a chance to show a ton of that, from start to finish.
Even with the historical liberties taken story-wise, Iñárritu’s film is a 4 star production. Top to the bottom, all aspects of The Revenant fire on every available cylinder. DiCaprio and Hardy put on an absolute clinic, as far as acting goes. Then you’ve got Gleeson and Poulter in supporting roles that add plenty to the whole show. But the technical side of things, the filming (and even the CGI on the bear which was incredible), the work that went into every aspect from the amazing score to the locations and everything in between, it’s all so admirable. Sure, there are lots of homages to other movies, scenes that felt very similar to other older Westerns and so on. Yet there’s too much here to find enjoyable, too many well designed and filmed sequences to say The Revenant is anything but excellent. If anything, I wish they’d have stuck closest to the true story because that alone makes for a great story. For all his realism, Iñárritu doesn’t seem to worry about the discrepancies between the real events and this semi-Hollywooded version.
Nevertheless, see this in theatre, don’t wait until it’s out on VOD or Blu ray. This first and foremost needs to be watched on a massive screen. Take it in. A great movie.
Birdman. 2014. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Merritt Wever, and Edward Norton. New Regency Pictures. Rated 14A. 119 minutes.
Birdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who was once playing the superhero Birdman in big movies. Now, he’s doing the stage. He has adapted Raymond Carver, specifically. All this stems from when he was a young man and supposedly Carver attended one of his performances; afterwards, the famous author drunkenly scribbled a note to a young Thomson on a cocktail napkin. Unfortunately, his stage play is suffering under the weight of many things – his ego, a rough relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone), a new and cocky actor (Edward Norton playing a meta-version of himself), et cetera. All of these things threaten to tear him apart, so the question is – can he hold it all together?
I’ve always enjoyed Keaton. I think he is generally under appreciated. While this movie is giving him a wave of high praise to ride on, I believe there are other performances before this which have solidified him as a wonderful actor – just a few are the Tim Burton Batman films, still my favourite Batman, Night Shift, Beetlejuice, and Jackie Brown. I do love his performance here in Birdman. I definitely would put this in his top roles of all-time, no doubt. I don’t take him to be much like his character in real life, though, I’m sure some of the character is a little relatable just in terms of how his career must have went initially after the fame of Batman slowly faded. Either way, Keaton puts a lot of effort into this movie. I thought it was a really full-hearted performance. He definitely put all he is worth into this character. It shows.
The other performances are really something, too. I enjoyed Norton, as I always do. He has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with, so I’m sure it was at least a little fun for him to fool around with this character. It’s like a meta-version of Norton himself almost.
Another person who I thought truly stood out was Emma Stone. She’s a really great young actress. Though, I’m not actually a huge fan of the movies she has done in the past, except for maybe Zombieland and her role in Superbad, I do think Stone has talent. In this film, she did a fantastic job with the character of Sam, Riggan’s daughter. There was something really vulnerable about the character, and yet also she came across as quite a strong woman. The relationship between Keaton and Stone worked real well, I thought. Both of them played great as a father-daughter duo who have seen hard times. A couple real great moments with them.
I am a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu. In fact, Amores Perros is the first non-english film I’d ever seen. I believe I was about sixteen years old. The film really moved me, so much so I had the title tattooed on my wrist. It’s a fascinating movie. Then later I saw 21 Grams, and then Babel, and Biutiful – I loved each of these. He is an interesting, unique filmmaker. I love the approach he has to subjects. This is one of the reasons Birdman is most definitely a real good film. Just the way Iñárritu shot everything here to look as if it were one long uninterrupted take is really innovative. Now, of course, you can find the meticulous little places where Iñárritu decided to hide his quick cuts, but you really do have to be paying full attention, as well as give a shit about such things. I really enjoyed this. It’s a wild way to make a movie, and it could have come off really terribly. That being said, I think Iñárritu pulls it off here in grand style.
All that aside, I don’t think Iñárritu’s film is a perfect and as amazing as the glorious reviews will have you believe. It’s ambitious, it has great performances, and a decent script. However, I do find at times the theme, or the message if you will, behind Birdman is a little too divisive. And not in a good sense, in the way of opinions. I think the message is really heavy handed. At one point, Birdman is telling Riggan how people want to “see action” and not this talk, talk, talk, philosophical stuff. It’s a great point to try and make, I just think it comes across really ham fisted. Like it’s saying if you enjoy action, you’re dumb. I’m on the side of the fence where I don’t care about Marvel – I don’t want any more superhero movies for awhile, even though I’m a huge Batman fan, in all forms of media, and have been for a long time – I just don’t want the market flooded with all this CGI-infested junk constantly. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be told that action, et cetera, is some sort of lower art form. I know there is black comedy in here, there are a lot of digs at the artists themselves, some of the material is no doubt pointed at artists in general – but still, I think this comes across as preachy to some. I love this movie. I just think some of these bits could have been toned down a little more, so as not to alienate people. Perhaps some might say “who cares about those people”, and that’s fine, but I think there was a way of achieving what Iñárritu wanted to do without being a bit snobbish. Just one man’s opinion. Or maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the point is that there is ego in all things, no matter if it’s an action-based superhero film or a stage play, or whatever – there is always an air of pretentiousness behind art, in whichever form it may come. Maybe that’s the point, I don’t know. I take it in the way I do, just as others will in their own way. I respect if others see the film in another light.
This is most definitely a 4 out of 5 star film for me. It is certainly a great movie, and I don’t doubt for a second this is on many Best Of lists from last year. Me – I didn’t love it as much as other movies. I really enjoyed it, a lot, and would watch it again. I will, absolutely. I just don’t think it’s as great as the hype will have you convinced. Definitely worth seeing. If not just for the fact Iñárritu does a fascinating job at weaving the camera in and around the locations of the film, from actor to actor, very naturally and beautifully. I’m in no way talking the film down, because if you don’t already know I have a few real unpopular opinions about some movies (I’m the kind who loves a few movies that are generally considered terrible – example: Exorcist II: The Heretic). This is merely my opinion. I still think it’s a fantastically honed piece of work. Destined to be a classic of cinema down the road, if not already with the praise it’s receiving. Keaton, especially, I really loved. Check this out – let me know what you thought about it in the comments!