The Revenant

LetterboxD review link

I’m not exactly sure what it means that films like Mad Max, The Martian and The Revenant are among some of the most popular films in America this year. But our interest in survivalism, in the context of growing inequality, state sponsored violence and overall waning trust in institutions is noticeable to me. I fear we’re already preparing for the worst of times, without first paying attention to what we might do to fix our current situation.

The first 45 minutes of this film, including the opening battle scene, and the subsequent beginning of a journey for these frontiersman is fantastic. The film moves with kinetic energy, each plot point revealed feels important and well calibrated against a back drop of violence and bloodshed. We are introduced to beautiful landscapes that surround these characters and there’s a clear way to understand why some characters are important and others less so. Over the course of the rest of the film, however, it is only the vistas that remain as deep and interesting. Each character becomes less and less compelling and each plot point moves the story along less and less.

Between The Revenant and The Hateful Eight there’s a lot of suffering on screen this month. And suffering, in and of itself, is not remarkable. It becomes remarkable when it is contextualized in circumstance, or personality, or something larger. These two movies, however, seemed to revel in suffering for its own sake. They used their plot points (somehow even more of an after thought in The Revenant than in The Hateful Eight) only to carry the viewer from one episode of suffering to the next. There were very few times that I felt bought into the characters, their motivations and the context for why they were either going through so much or willing to go through so much.

Whether DiCaprio earns an Oscar for this or not, is not as interesting to me (I’ve already given him Oscars in my head for his work in films like Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed, and Shutter Island). I’m more interested in the fact that Iñárritu chose to go back to these instincts that were present in Amores Perros, Biutiful and Babel rather than realizing that he received the most positive response for Birdman and perhaps he should explore a future in that direction instead.