Saturday, January 9, 2016
Critical Mass: Leonardo DiCaprio's role in The Revenant is already the stuff of legend
For weeks, The Revenant has been heard, but little seen. The 19th-century Western, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as frontier legend Hugh Glass, opened on Christmas Day in a mere four theaters, but the Fox studio awards machine has saturated the airwaves and talk shows and websites for two weeks.
You may have heard about the complicated production, which included filming in extreme and occasionally torturous weather conditions in order to capture Glass’s desperate plight in the untamed 1820s wilderness after he’s savagely mauled by a bear and left for dead. (Surely, you heard about the bear…) You may have heard about DiCaprio’s commitment, which included submitting to freezing environments and eating bison liver — anecdotes used to pad his campaign for that long-overdue Oscar for Best Actor. And you may have heard about the precision and uncompromising demands of director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the Oscar-winning duo from Birdman, that may have something to do with the crew members who walked off the set when times got hard.
Making The Revenant was a journey into the heart of darkness because it had to be. Glass’s tale, long mythologized and resurrected by Michael Punke’s 2002 novel, on which the film is based, is a miraculous survivor’s tale. On the brink of death following his disastrous encounter with a bear, Glass was left in the care of two fellow trappers — played by Tom Hardy and Will Poulter — bribed by their boss to give him a proper burial once he expired. But as Glass lingered, and hostile Indians lurked in the wilderness, they took matters into the own hands. Somehow, Glass survived and set off in pursuit of the dishonorable men who betrayed him.
“The Revenant marks Alejandro González Iñárritu’s return to the big screen with a vengeance — literally,” says EW’s Chris Nashawaty in his B review of the film. “It’s an epic about the existential extremes human beings will go to for revenge. Well, that, and witnessing one of Hollywood’s biggest stars endure aPassion of the Christ-style beating from man, beast, and nature.”
There are numerous reasons to see The Revenant, but it’s DiCaprio and the growing drumbeat to reward him with that elusive Oscar that will drive many to the theater this weekend when the film expands to more than 3,000 screens. Is it his time? The 41-year old actor has been nominated four times for acting, and he’s considered a lock for a Best Actor nod when the Academy unveils their list on Thursday. He’s become a somewhat odd sentimental choice, considering his unrivaled success at such a young age. After all, Al Pacino and Paul Newman had to wait even longer for their Oscar moment. But did those esteemed actorsever sleep in an animal carcass?
For more of Nashawaty’s review and collection of critics’ takes from around the country, scroll below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“It’s an epic adventure writ small. And for some, that may be enough. But I suspect others will leave The Revenant wishing there was a little more narrative meat on the bone. Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Iñárritu’s savage endurance test of a film almost works better as a series of stunning images and surreal sequences than as an emotionally satisfying story.”
Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
“The Revenant is a gritty little B-western that, for reasons unclear, has been pumped up into an epic of brutalist art cinema. At the center is a plot as sturdy as it is time-worn: a man gets left for dead and comes back to exact vengeance on his betrayers. Yet the acres of beautiful hot air that surround this storyline, courtesy of director Alejandro González Iñárritu, star Leonardo DiCaprio, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, never quite elevate the movie to the level of myth they’re aiming for. At times, though, they come close.”
Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter)
“Pushing both brutal realism and extravagant visual poetry to the edges of what one customarily finds in mainstream American filmmaking, director/co-writer Alejandro G. Inarritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and a vast team of visual effects wizards have created a sensationally vivid and visceral portrait of human endurance under very nearly intolerable conditions; this is a film that makes you quite glad to have been born in a century with insulation and central heating.”
David Edelstein (New York)
“Early in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s survival saga, I gasped ‘Bloody hell!,’ meaning both ‘What an amazing filmmaker!’ and ‘Get me out of here!’ The movie is visceral with a side of viscera. The Hollywood columnist who wrote that it was too ‘unflinchingly brutal’ for women was justly ridiculed, but he did pick up on something that’s there: Watching it is meant to be a test of a certain kind of ‘manliness.’”
Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)
“DiCaprio doesn’t so much act in the movie as endure it — half of his dialogue consists of grunts and ‘Arrgh!’ and ‘Ugh!’ — but he brings more to the role than sheer physicality. Glass’ relationship with his son, which is intended to form the movie’s emotional center, is too thinly rendered to make an impression. But DiCaprio is too lively, too resourceful, to allow the movie to sink into grim, solemn horror. His character may be a metaphor — a personification of our innate instinct to survive — but DiCaprio also gives him a soul.”
Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)
“DiCaprio has maybe 20 percent as much dialogue as he did in The Wolf of Wall Street, and his classic movie-star looks are buried beneath an icy beard and layers of mud and blood, but it’s a great big performance — powerful and raw and forceful. After five Academy Award nominations without a win, this could be the role that wins DiCaprio the Oscar. It would be well deserved.
Anthony Lane (New Yorker)
“What Iñárritu has created is less an adventure than a solemn pilgrimage, suppressing the giddy flights of Birdman, and, as for DiCaprio, his forte — a comic impishness, last released in The Wolf of Wall Street — is sternly curbed. Awed reports of what he went through, on the set of The Revenant, cannot disguise the fact that his character is a moral monotone, who suffers great afflictions but no change. Although the wild world is thrown at him, how much really stirs in the heart of Glass?”
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)
“The actor’s great ally here is double Oscar-winning cinematographer Lubezki, who brilliantly captures the unnerving beauty of a virgin wilderness and Glass’ agonizing attempts to stay alive in it. … The cinematographer can’t save The Revenant’s uncertain ending and unimpressive dialogue, but it’s not for want of trying. What Inarritu told the Times last year about his director of photography is apparently still true: ‘He loves to live on the edge. If failure is not a possibility, he doesn’t seem interested.’”
Justin Chang (Variety)
“In short, The Revenant must be appreciated first and foremost as a sensory and aesthetic marvel, a brutal hymn to the beauty and terror of the natural world that exerts a hypnotic pull from the opening frame. Its deficiencies as a human drama and a metaphysical meditation will take a bit longer to emerge.”
Manohla Dargis (New York Times)
“Iñárritu isn’t content to merely seduce you with ecstatic beauty and annihilating terror; he wants to blow your mind, to amp up your art-house experience with blockbusterlike awesomeness. Sometimes, as with Birdman … this desire to knock the audience out pays off. The Revenant is a more explicitly serious, graver and aspirational effort.”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Even more than Birdman, The Revenant is a director’s movie, a showcase for a filmmaker’s vision and innovation. Iñárritu employs long, complicated shots that make full use of the wide screen. Early in the movie, he films an Indian attack in ways that make you realize that every previous director has done it all wrong. The attack comes without warning, from all sides. A character starts calmly barking out orders and is killed mid-sentence. Every moment is a horrible surprise, which, of course, it would be. There is no safe place to look, no safe character to follow.”
Stephanie Zacharek (TIME)
“The Revenant is supposed to be relentless, though you may find it tiresome, the movie equivalent of tigers circling a tree so single-mindedly that they churn themselves into butter. Lubezki was the cinematographer on Birdman, and in The Revenant, he and Iñárritu engage in yet more feats of DP derring-do. For better or worse, we’re always aware of what the camera’s doing. … There are about ten too many shots of treetops waving listlessly in the breeze, probably intended to symbolize the Isolation of Man or some other graduate thesis topic.”