Leonardo DiCaprio certainly undergoes a tremendous physical and emotional ordeal in The Revenant, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s follow-up to his highly praised Birdman.
Whether his labors will/should be rewarded with an Oscar…let’s talk about that later.
DiCaprio sheds any trace of boyish charm as grizzled trapper Hugh Glass, a guide for a weary group of trappers in the unfriendly wilderness (weather, Indians, other trappers) circa 1823. After the trapping party is decimated by marauding Indians (a graphic, intense sequence), Glass tries to lead the survivors to safety. Unfortunately while scouting, he is attacked and eventually mauled by a bear (this scene, while effective, also leaves one in doubt of Glass’ supposed skills—after all, it is the second time in the film he is caught unawares—and a half-hour hasn’t even elapsed). Along with Glass’ half-Pawnee son Hawk, two fellow trappers, Fitzgerald and Bridger accept the offer/challenge to care for the seemingly dying Glass. While Bridger (Will Poulter) acts out of concern for Glass, Fitzgerald’s (Tom Hardy) motivation is the prospect of recouping some lost profits. When it becomes clear to Fitzgerald that Glass isn’t going to die anytime soon, Fitzgerald tries to kill Glass—then murders Glass’ son when he intervenes. Fitzgerald and Bridger then abandon Glass, after Fitzgerald convinces Bridger that pursuing Indians are nearby.
The remainder of the film depicts Glass’ agonizing struggle to survive, juxtaposed with Fitzgerald and Bridger’s journey to the safety of the fort.
Hardy (very effective) and Poulter make for interesting travel companions, as the conscience-stricken Bridger is goaded and tested by the brutal, pragmatic Fitzgerald. However the bulk of the film belongs to DiCaprio, depicting Glass’ desire to reach civilization, and exact his vengeance on the unrepentant Fitzgerald. He certainly endures a great deal of punishment, whether it’s escaping in the freezing rapids, or using a horse for something other than nature intended. For a sheer physical endurance award, DiCaprio would win hands down, but Best Actor…?? He’s certainly convincing as the freezing, agonized trapper…but then again Inarritu was filming under freezing, agonizing conditions. In other ways the writer/director Inarritu stacks the emotional deck, granting DiCaprio’s Glass a fictitious Indian wife (whom we learn has been murdered) and son, providing a number of flashbacks and visions that (should) enhance our sympathy for Glass, and supplying a late setback which tests not only Glass’s endurance but our belief in the proceedings. When it comes time for scores to be settled, the movie drags a bit, though the final reckoning is well done. While The Revenant is strikingly photographed and convincing on a visceral level, it still lacks the emotional wallop it was seeking.
Review of Carol
Carol, based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, also looks to be emotionally resonant, as it is set in the 1950s and has, at its core, a romantic relationship between two disparate women: Carol, an upper-crust soon-to-be divorcee (Cate Blanchett) and Therese, a department store sales woman with a talent for photography (Rooney Mara). Their growing affection for each other, in spite of class distinctions and societal taboos of the time (not to mention a resentful, resourceful husband (nicely played by Kyle Chandler), is painstakingly depicted but doesn’t move one as much as it would like. One problem is it’s hard to understand the attraction between the two, given the gulf between Carol’s reserve (at least as Blanchett portrays her) and Mara’s (appealing) blend of innocence and inquisitiveness. Highsmith’s novel was ahead of its time; Todd Haynes’ film hearkens back to the 1950s in style and effect. However (as with Haynes’ Far From Heaven), the emotional impact is blunted as the viewer isn’t given ample opportunity to sympathize with Carol and Therese’s plight. The film presumes that merely identifying and presenting the situation will warrant an emotional reaction from the viewer, but that may not be the case here—in spite of the efforts of Mara and Blanchett.
Review of Bone Tomahawk
Bone Tomahawk. What’s that? You haven’t heard of it? That’s not surprising, given its limited theatrical release.
However, it’s on Amazon Prime now, and you should give it a chance, since it is a tense, satisfying amalgam of both the western and the horror film. The movie opens as two cutthroats (literally) disturb what seems to be an Indian burial ground—one is promptly killed, while the other (David Arquette) makes it to the town of Bright Hope. We are then introduced to the main characters, including a hurt Patrick Wilson, his wife (and doctor’s assistant) Lili Simmons, and likable, devoted old deputy Richard Jenkins), and Kurt Russell’s savvy sheriff (back in the saddle before The Hateful Eight). The suspicious sheriff Russell arrests Arquette, but soon after Arquette, Simmons (who has been tending to his wounds) and another deputy are abducted from the jail—leading Russell and company on a long, hot journey to rescue them. What they don’t know is the true nature of the kidnappers—I’ll leave you to discover that. Suffice it to say S. Craig Zahler’s deliberately paced film takes time to develop the characters’ relationships and the action, sporadic at first builds in intensity and frequency as the pursuers near the kidnappers. Russell and Jenkins are especially good, as is Wilson, for whom the journey turns into a test of courage and endurance akin to that of DiCaprio’s (only in a warmer climate). While the journey is a tad overlong, it is worth a look.