Sunday, 20 March 2016

Alejandro González Iñárritu's "The Revenant" – Bear Necessities

Let’s not spend too long wondering how The Revenant has already made it on the IMDB 250 list of the best films ever made in the history of mankind.  It is on the list and since my mission is to watch the whole list and I happened to see it recently at the cinema, here is a more up-to-date review than you may be used to expecting on my blog.


The Revenant has been in the news recently as it has given Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar.  And boy does he work for it.  When he’s not swimming in freezing rivers or clawing his way up snowy banks he’s fighting bears or crawling out of dead horses.  You almost expect him to emerge from the frozen horse carcass brandishing a mini Oscar statuette, croaking ‘Have I done enough to earn it yet?’

The film is spectacular and worth watching at the cinema.  It’s hard to spot the CGI cracks in the bear attack sequence.  The arrows thudding through the hapless pioneers’ bodies come in with a convincing thwack.  And the feature-long battle between Leo and his enemy John Fitzgerald (played convincingly as ever by Tom Hardy) keeps going relentlessly.

Review continues below...

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Leo’s performance is pegged back and all the more effective for that.  Perhaps the best thing about the film is how Leo convinces us that he has become just another wild beast of the woods as he ekes out a desperate survival in the wilderness.  Later when we see him sharing a hunk of raw bison liver with an Indian, the steaming offal torn out of the recently deceased beast, it’s easy to imagine the scene as a relatively convincing rendition of early hominids relieved at achieving a kill.

There are plenty of bad things about the film, however.  Most of the time it is impossible to believe a word of it, as Leo recovers from his infected bear wounds in the freezing landscape, swims and survives immersion in icy water, somehow keeps things dry while he’s doing it, etc etc.  The grim mystical sections with the Indians are unspeakably bad, matched only by an implausible westernisation of the same Indians when we go into their point of view.

My final score for it seems a bit low, so I thought I’d double-check it with a bottom-up and top-down approach.  Bottom-up, it gets a point for the bear, a point for the horse, two points for the Leo-as-hominid acting.  Top-down, I score a film over 8 if I definitely think I’ll watch it again.  The Revenant doesn’t get that, so 7 would be its highest possible score.  Take off a point for the implausible survival scenes, take off a couple of points for the bullshit mysticism.  Either way I get a 4.  Still, it was moderately entertaining.

Personal Score: 4/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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