Wednesday, January 20, 2016

THE REVENANT

"(grunt grunt pant pant heave heave)"



The same director's inexplicably Oscar-winning BIRDMAN at least did me the favor of evaporating as I sat there: I've had more memorable rides in elevators. But there's something extra-special about THE REVENANT that's going to piss me off for weeks, especially on Oscar night, when Leonardo DiCaprio wins a spectacularly ill-deserved knickknack for wearing prosthetic makeup and crawling through snow for 160 minutes. It's like a feature length film of the Quaalude scene from WOLF OF WALL STREET, but you know, not played for anything like laughs, because SERIOUS.

THE REVENANT is just preposterous. The line between plausibility and oh-come-the-fuck-on was crossed very decisively at one point, where DiCaprio survives just one bit of extreme awfulness too many, and entirely unscathed to boot. I remember thinking that even Buster Keaton had the sense to play this kind of thing for a laugh, but of course, Keaton was a genius.

The story's just ridiculously simple, before it takes the turn to simply ridiculous. DiCaprio's Glass is a tracker helping a group of fur trappers in early 19th wilderness America. His trapping party is attacked by Native Americans firing CGI arrows, and a lot of the party suffers death by special effect, and what's left of the cast has to make its way back to "civilization" severely depleted and empty handed. Glass is mauled by a group of stunt coordinators hiding behind a singularly unconvincing CGI bear and as a result Glass suffers severe prosthetic makeup -- he has to lie there and cough under gallons of fake blood and latex and distressed costume material. A plot contrivance named Fitzgerald, played by Heath Ledger's vocal mannerisms from BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, rather sensibly realizes that someone suffering such hellish prosthetic makeup hasn't got long to live (Fitzgerald hasn't gotten a look at the film's running time, evidently) and abandons Glass to two hours of crawling through snow, crawling through bloody snow, encountering native Americans, crawling through more snow, riding rapids, falling off cliffs, rescuing damsels in distress (I kid you not) and so on. The film takes a final turn into revenge fantasy in its final quarter, even managing a final detour in shameless self-righteous message-mongering that just has to be seen to be laughed at.

Be warned: THE REVENANT isn't merely serious. It is SERIOUSLY SERIOUS -- it is SOLEMN, PROFOUND, SERIOUSLY SOLEMNLY PROFOUND, PROFOUNDLY SOLEMNLY SERIOUS, and PROFOUNDLY SERIOUSLY SOLEMN. It's just so serious that I found myself giggling helplessly at a couple of the more blatantly serious moments -- Mr. Hardy delivers an Oscar-clip-ready speech about God that was so stupidly written and delivered (in an accent and voice tone borrowed from Heath Ledger but without Ledger's clearer diction) that it came off like something out of BLAZING SADDLES, he's like the grizzled old prospector nobody can understand, I sat there expecting a church bell to drown him out everytime he started to speak, but no such luck, because you know, SERIOUS.  Few films in my experience work so HARD to bludgeon me with their SERIOUSNESS OF SERIOUSOSITY. You can see the STRENUOUS SERIOUSNESS in every single frame, and at 24 frames a second, at two hours and forty minutes, that's a hell of a lot of bludgeons the average audience member gets subjected to. So much STRENUOUS EFFORT on the part of the cast and crew, who are all REALLY OUTSIDE in REAL COLD and REAL SNOW -- I can imagine the director carefully choosing the exact texture of snow for DiCaprio to crawl through, and precisely measuring out how much blood was going to leak out of DiCaprio's mouth at each plot juncture. It's all so airless and lifeless and carefully composed that I never once just gave in and rolled with the story, my disbelief was never suspended for a single solitary second.   


There's some cool music on the soundtrack (a piece by John Luther Adams called BECOME OCEAN gets some play) and there's no denying the skill of the production, it's certainly all very professional. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, of TREE OF LIFE, THE NEW WORLD, GRAVITY and other Oscar-winning fame does his requisite splendid work, but well, I just kept feeling like I'd seen it all before -- the gorgeousness doesn't impress or move or overwhelm precisely because it is so clearly designed to impress AND move AND overwhelm, if you know what I mean. And I haven't even mentioned Glass' Native American wife who whispers to him in Malickian whispers and appears to him in Malickian/Tarkovskyan/RidleyScottian visions and and adds some sociological import to the proceedings because that's what Native Americans do in films like this.  When they're not killing the heroes, that is.

And so much of it is knocked off from other filmmakers -- there's Malick (the gorgeousness of the gorgeousity, the whispered voiceovers from THE NEW WORLD and TREE OF LIFE and THIN RED LINE), there's Tarkovsky (shots are lifted straight from STALKER, NOSTALGHIA and THE MIRROR).  The only thing missing, as so often with so many films in general but with Inarritu's in particular, is any reason to give a sh*t about anyone or anything in it.

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