Movie Review – The Revenant

I like to imagine that The Hateful Eight and The Revenant take place in the same universe. Both are set in a snowy version of the Wild Midwest, and they both depict unadulterated violence, but that’s about where the similarities end. Constitutionally speaking, the films have very distinct personalities, and if The Hateful Eight is the gunslinging cowboy bursting into the saloon with guns blazing, The Revenant is the calm and collected frontiersman sharpening his long knife quietly in the corner.

Starring a talented cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, and a trailer that promised beautiful landscapes juxtaposed with violent set pieces, The Revenant set itself up to be an experience rather than just another movie.

The Good

I say The Revenant is “an experience” because the movie seems conscious of itself being a presentation of sorts. Just about every transitional shot between major scenes were of the frozen tundra that is the Canadian Rockies, showcasing a majestically untouched and pristine winter landscape that really set the mood for the film. There were also close-up shots on smaller things like the glint of sunlight through icicles hanging off of trees, or of a puny fire struggling to stay alive. The overall presentation succeeds in transporting audiences from a seat in the theatre to a place that is cold, hostile, and merciless. Setting-wise, immersion was achieved through a constant though non-intrusive reminder of what Nature is like.

Oooooooo. Aaaaaaaah.
Oooooooo. Aaaaaaaah.

The film tells the story of a man seeking revenge after being left for dead when a pelt hunting expedition goes awry. Both DiCaprio and Hardy do an excellent job portraying their roles, and their talent unquestionably contributes to the storytelling’s fluid pace. From quiet and high-tension moments to scenes with no holds barred, the acting was solid and never took a step out of tune.

Speaking of the action scenes: though few and far in between, the action sequences in The Revenant were breathtaking. The choreography was top-notch and well executed, and was highly engaging primarily because it effectively portrayed the disorder and chaos of guerrilla-style skirmishes. The most impressive one is the initial camp invasion, which you can get a glimpse of in the trailer, and is passes the baton from scene to scene smoothly and at a moderate pace. The action wasn’t too frequent to be disruptive, nor too sparse for audiences to get bored. Like a warm bowl of porridge (that DiCaprio’s character so desperately needed), it was just right.

It ain't Lord of the Rings, and that's alright.
It ain’t Lord of the Rings, but it doesn’t have to be.

The Bad

You know those films that are really good, but you’d never want to watch more than once? Boyhood, The Hurt Locker, and Schindler’s List come to my mind when thinking of this category of movies. These types of film are good, sometimes even great, but once you know the ending, or once you’ve experienced it the first time, the novelty of it wears off when you know how it ends, making a re-watch intolerably dull because the initial “wow” factor is gone.

This is what The Revenant feels like; a one-off movie that doesn’t need to be rewatched. As discussed in the previous section, the shots of nature are gorgeous and helps to immerse the audience, but during all of it nothing is happening, and there is a noticeable downtime in between major scenes. On the first viewing it’s okay, because the suspense is there and we don’t know what our protagonist is going to get mixed up in next, but after seeing it once, I imagine it would be very boring waiting for the next thing to happen. This is one downside to a film being an “experience”, and this film sacrifices re-watchability in order to achieve its goals.

One other thing that detracted from my viewing of the film is the fact that DiCaprio and Hardy are both A-list celebrities. This seems like a weird thing to complain about, but I can’t help but imagine how much more impressive the film would’ve been if it was played out with people I didn’t recognize. DiCaprio and Hardy have starred in many films, playing a variety of roles, and their acting has stayed consistently above-average throughout their careers, but therein lies the problem: consistency. By now, audiences should be used to their style of acting, and what type of characters they can portray, and that’s what I felt a little bit during the movie, that feeling of familiarity, like I’ve seen those characters somewhere else before. If this film had starred two other unknowns in the lead roles, I’m sure the overall presentation would’ve been way more impressive, but then the guarantee of a good acting performance would’ve been absent. That is why this complaint is just a small nitpicky one.

Mad Max: Winter is Coming?
Mad Max: Winter Road?

The One With Nature

The Revenant is an ambitious movie that stands out from the rest with its identity as a Snowy Western. I especially appreciate the fact that it didn’t try to guilt trip anyone about what happened with the Natives. The movie is primarily concerned with telling its story, and each chapter offers something new to look at, and with quite a few surprises that will keep you on your toes.

It is a great thing that production went all out and filmed on location. In a world of green screens and computer-generated graphics, The Revenant can lay claim to being as real as it gets. On top of reminding us how beautiful our planet is, the movie also offers a brief yet visceral history lesson into just how tough it was living in North America pre-1900s. This type of effort demonstrates the love and professionalism of everyone involved, and makes the film that much more worthwhile, even from a purely casual standpoint (for me at least).

In Conclusion…

The Revenant is a five-course meal. You’ll hate it if you’re expecting non-stop action and grizzly bear fights. The action that does occur is sporadic but satisfying each time. No two action sequences are alike, and in between them your senses will be given optical massages in the form of sweeping panoramic views of snow-capped mountains and vivid forestry. I’d recommend this film to you if you’re generally an outdoorsy person, and/or a fan of dramatic films minus romance.

This has been a gamobo review.


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