"I ain't afraid to die anymore. I done it already"...while watching The Revenant.
Spoiler alert. If you have not seen the movie, don't read further unless you have decided with good reason to pass.
I typically write posts about blockbusters worthy of great praise. I don't typically address other film's shortcomings. But in this case I'll make an exception because of the unjustified praise that Hollywood is heaping upon The Revenant.
The Revenant has amassed 12 Oscar nominations, most notably for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Really? I'd give it one out of three.
While most professional critics gave the film a solid review, moviegoers gave it a B+ CinemaScore. That's the equivalent of saying "good try."
Story-wise, The Revenant uses a grossly tired, clichéd storyline which may be why it wasn't nominated in the screenplay category; Frontiersman loves family. Family member gets murdered. Frontiersman seeks revenge. Period. There's no nuance. No novelty. No twist. While there are no truly unique story ideas, deserving Best Picture films brilliantly bring novelty to something old. Disney's Inside Out did so in a spectacular way. The story gave us a personal look at ourselves by allowing us to see inside our emotional core. Despite this, it wasn't nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, despite its nod for Best Original Screenplay. It should have been.
While all movies require us to suspend disbelief, great films are grounded in the world they create. Meaning, you can believe the events as they unfold. The Revenant defies belief. The hero frontiersman Hugh Glass somehow manages to survive one death defying event after another, any one of which should have killed him. First he survives an initial Indian attack that killed about three quarters of his fellow trappers. Let's give him that one. Then he gets torn apart by a massive grizzly bear and left for dead, despite a thousand pounds of pressure that the bear places upon his head. It should have cracked like an egg. Then Glass is left for dead by his companions but recovers and makes his way to safety. But okay, let's give him that one, too, especially since that's the only near fatal event that was based upon the actual, real life story.
But between the bear attack and safe travels, lies a tale that defies belief. Glass somehow manages to survive one Indian attack after another. He survives several blizzards despite a fever, yet has time to cauterize bleeding that appears to be rushing out of his jugular. Then he's in more storms. More fighting. More frozen water. Water falls. More near death. By the way, the actual, real-life event is reported to have happened in summer. But okay. Let's call that creative license.
At one point, he survives a storm by being placed in a hut built by an Indian he befriended (that was convenient), yet he somehow goes unnoticed when evil frontiersmen kill his Indian friend. He steals a horse and frees an Indian maiden, and somehow doesn't get shot at nearly close blank range. Then get this...as he is being chased, he rides his horse over a tall cliff, lands in a pine tree that appears to be at least a hundred feet tall, then plummets to the ground unscathed.
Just as odd, his pursuers don't bother to check on him. Really?
After all of this effort to deliver revenge upon the man who killed his son, Glass decides to let the bad guy go. Huh? What? That moment is amazingly inconsistent with the character and the drive for revenge that kept him miraculously alive.
Then the Indian maiden he saved ends up saving his life in classic Pocahontas fashion.
Frankly, I don't know if I have the order of events right. It's a blur.
I'm a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. And he did an amazing job of being mauled, drowned, buried, stabbed, shot at, burned, and frozen. But his range of emotions can be summed up as "frozen and near death...all the time...in nearly every shot". I believed that he was frozen and near death, and that's great acting, but when it lasts for nearly three hours you become desensitized to it. Oh look, he's frozen and near death again. The emotional range wasn't there. The flashbacks that attempted to show a happier time with his wife and son were too distant and dreamlike to be powerful.
Taken as a whole, the film is simply unbelievable and monotonous. I could add that is was way too long, but the feeling of length is a function of a story's ability to engage. Plenty of films of similar length kept my attention throughout. Not this one.
The film feels like a big, ambitious attempt to win an Oscar for Leo. And he may well deserve it, as would any actor who gets relentlessly tortured by a director. But actors who agree to be tortured for their art, and a film with mesmerizing cinematography, are not key criteria, I would hope, for a Best Picture nomination, particularly when the story, the character range, and the unbelievable narrative are so painfully stilted. And if the Academy feels that directors should be given an award for torturing their lead actors, then I guess Alejandro González Iñárritu should get one as well. But his direction of last year's Birdman better revealed his great genius.
But Best Picture nominated films should not make audiences feel tortured. Or as my wife declared when the credits rolled, "That was painful."