The Film: The Revenant
The Pitch: If you go into the woods today, you’re in for a – oh, fuck, it’s a bear!
Number of Nominations: Twelve
Which Categories? Best Picture. Best Director. Best Cinematography. Best Actor. Best Supporting Actor. Best Editing. Best Sound Editing. Best Sound Mixing. Best Production Design. Best Hair and Makeup. Best Visual Effects. Best Costume Design
Will it Win? Leonardo DiCaprio is going home with an Oscar, even if he has to drag his bloody and bruised and broken body on to the stage and give a wheezing acceptance speech.
The other categories are, I think, up in the air. The Big Short has become the front-runner for Best Picture, and while director Alejandro Innaritu and cinematographer might do the double (they both won last year for Birdman), I have a feeling that the Academy is going to reward Mad Max: Fury Road‘s George Miller and John Seale instead.
Likewise, Oscars for costume design, production design and editing are probably going to go the apocalyptic tale.
Tom Hardy might just slip in and win Best Supporting Actor (it would be a nice reward for sticking with the long, arduous production of The Revenant at the expense of his role in Suicide Squad).
The Revenant might do well in technical categories – the sound is incredible, and the visual effects are there without being showy (which surely is the point).
While on a danger-laden journey through the American wilderness in the early 1800s, frontiersman Hugh Glass is badly mauled by a grizzly and abandoned by his fellow trappers. Barely surviving his wounds, Glass is driven by thoughts of his family and a desire for revenge as he endures the frigid winter and pursues the men who left him for dead.
There is much to admire in Alejandro Innaritu’s The Revenant.
The cinematography is amazing, and manages the seemingly impossible feat of having ridiculously close close-ups and breathtakingly wide vistas appear in the same shot. As with other work by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, there are many long and intricately-choreographed one-shots, and, shot digitally, the film might just prove to be the final scratch on the negative of film-stock (although, to be fair, the whole ‘shooting only in available light’ thing was done by Kubrick – on film – forty years ago in Barry Lyndon).
The sound design is equally impressive; you can almost hear each individual leaf rustle in the breeze, and as an immersive visual and aural experience, The Revenant combines the majesty of a nature documentary with the narrative heft of prestige period drama.
The performances by all concerned are notable, and convey utter misery. You will not see as many filthy and matted beards this season. Hipsters who are into cosplay will find much inspiration. DiCaprio grunts and grimaces and croak-whispers his lines, acting his way through the frozen wilderness for all he’s worth. Tom Hardy wears a scalp-wig and adopts a strangled Southern drawl as the film’s menacing, pseudo-religious antagonist (Hardy has said he was inspired somewhat by Tom Berenger in Platoon.) Domhnall Gleeson is lanky, decent and noble. Will Poulter looks like a child lost among men. After two and half hours of seeing the actors’ breaths, you might come out of the cinema in need of hot soup.
For all that, though, the film is one that I admired rather than enjoyed.
And there is much to admire, the now infamous bear attack scene for one, a combination of acting, practical and visual effects that makes for a harrowing five minutes. The action sequences and stunts are impressively staged. And how nice to see a film set on the frontier that gives voice to Native Americans without descending into patronising wise elder mode (although I think the film wants to have its spiritual cake and eat it too.) The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto is somber and ominous, and stayed with me long after the final credit.
But the film feels a little long. The revenge tale is rather simple, and probably could have been told in 90 minutes instead of almost 150. But shorter movies don’t tend to win Oscars (Gravity excepted.)
Everything about The Revenant declares THIS IS IMPORTANT, but is it really? Although it is based on an incredible true story, The Revenant tells a tale with stakes less important than other Best Picture nominees Bridge of Spies and Spotlight. Room is equally harrowing.
And does The Revenant tell us anything about the harsh lives of white men in the woods in the nineteenth century that we haven’t already seen in movies like Jeremiah Johnson and A Man Called Horse? Or even Man in the Wilderness, loosely based on the same story?
Still, though, this is a brutally-told, brilliantly-shot, superbly-acted drama that you should see on the biggest screen you can find. It just isn’t a film I plan on revisiting anytime soon.
Verdict: Four Scraggly Beards out of Five