The Revenant - 2016 Oscar Nominee Film Review

   With the box office success of The Hateful Eight and The Revenant, a number of film critics and professionals, including Quentin Tarantino, have rejoiced at the potential resurrection of the Western as a viable cinematic genre. Yet, particularly in the case of Alejandro G. Iñárritu's movie, it is debatable whether either of the movies truly fit the classic definitions of the label.

   The Revenant, despite being set in the Wild West of 1823, is a movie which exists for the primary function of allowing an audience to see a man suffer extravagantly for an extending running time. This is not a cowboy film like the ones John Ford and Clint Eastwood used to make - indeed, the more obvious predecessors for Iñárritu's film are Alive and 127 Hours. The Revenant is part of  a more modern genre than the humble Western; this is "survival porn" and closer, in tone and content, to The Passion of The Christ than, for example, Stagecoach or even Dances With Wolves.

   The purpose, and drive, of the film stems from an early sequence in which Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a famous frontiersman, is mauled ferociously by a bear. The fight sequence is brutal to say the least - Glass is clawed, bitten, dragged and crushed by his giant foe. Glass survives, only just, but is left as little more than a whimpering, severely punctured bag of bones.  

   From here, DiCaprio spends the majority of the running time as little more than a wounded beast. He bites into raw fish, breaks bones from animal carcasses to suck on bone marrow, all whilst crawling around on all fours and grunting monosyllables in anguish - the gap between man and animal is not as wide as we'd like to assume suggests Iñárritu. Indeed, the behaviour of some of Glass's co-explorer's suggests that the thin veneer which separates civilization from the wild may be nothing more than an illusion. Humans, perhaps, are nothing more than animals at their most cunning.

   That The Revenant has been nominated for an array of technical Oscars is not at all surprising: the movie is very well filmed for the most part - there's some hokey CGI thrown into the mix here and there but it wouldn't be a big budget Hollywood epic if this weren't the case. The cinematography, capturing unforgiving horizons and decadent landscapes, is top notch and it would be remiss not to mention the incredible make-up design which gave Glass his wounds.

   Yet, the purpose of The Revenant is never made truly clear. As the film concludes we know little about Glass other than he's as shatter proof as Superman and, aside from this, that he dearly loves his son. The narrative meanders and takes us nowhere slowly. Is suffering alone supposed to provide us with enjoyment and motive for watching this film?

    The main problem, however, with The Revenant is Tom Hardy who, as a co-explorer, decides to portray his character with an unfitting accent perhaps belonging to a drunken Geordie. His facial expressions were limited to "not blinking" and "squinting" exclusively. Its both a bizarre and entirely substandard performance from an actor who is making such things his trademark. I have never been mauled by a bear but, as excruciating as The Revenant made that look, it can't be much more difficult to endure than Hardy's performance in this film.

   Stunning to look at but ultimately hollow.

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