Oscar Outlook: The Revenant

In college we had to take two History of International Cinema classes in order to obtain a Cinema-Television degree. In one of them, we were required to watch the French New Wave film Celine and Julie Go Boating directed by Jacques Renard. Before the screening, our professor warned us that is was over three hours long, so class would run a little late. He then explained Renard made the film repetitive and redundant on purpose so we can more viscerally relate to the dilemma the two heroines find themselves in of repeating the same actions over and over again.

I watched.

And ever since then, when people ask what the worst movie I have ever seen is, I say it is Celine and Julie Go Boating. Because I don’t need the movie to be three hours and twenty minutes long to get they are going through something very repetitive.  Groundhog Day got the point across in a brisk 109 minutes. If you need three hours to convey the same concept, you are simply doing it wrong.

Celine and Julie Go Boating crossed my mind around the third or fourth time I checked my phone to see just how much of The Revenant I had left to sit through.  Because, along about the third time I had to watch Leonardo DiCaprio army crawl his way over to something he was about to eat, do to himself, or climb into, I was pretty over it. We get it. He’s been through hell six times over. He wants to avenge his kid. I’ve seen Gladiator. I find the director Alejandro Inarritu’s direction to tend towards the heavy-handed  a lot. Many people complained about the hackneyed, hopeful conclusion of Birdman instead of pulling the trigger, literally.

The same happens at the conclusion of The Revenant, where, instead of possibly offering some sort of insight about how revenge, even if divinely intervened, just doesn’t amount to anything, instead ends with another ambiguously hopeful shot straight out of Gladiator. And this ending left me feeling empty, a little baffled, and at a loss why these clearly talented human beings were given $135 million and said, “This. This story, which really doesn’t have much to it, and really doesn’t offer much insight beyond: revenge, while a truly unmatched motivator, is a morally ambiguous motivation. This is the movie we need to make.”

Because the thing is this movie is visually stunning. As my friend Scott Huff pointed out, this really is a great example of the true power of cinema. The opening scene where the pack of hunters are under siege is astonishing and the blend of physical and CGI effects is phenomenal. Throughout the film, I am blown away at the astonishing cinematography, the use of editing to create what looks like one long tracking shot. It is technical cinema at its finest and I hope it sweeps all those awards.

And I really thought after 45 minutes or so that this movie had a lot more story to it than I expected, but once DiCaprio is left to fend for himself, all of that momentum screeched to a halt. I’ve heard several people echo the sentiment that this movie is really around 45 minutes too long. I assume it is this long for the same reasons Julie and Celine Go Boating is long, but as I have had, those aren’t good reasons.

My other big problem is Tom Hardy. The more I watch him in movies, the more I can conclude the guy is just not a very good actor and he is really just trying to do a mumblier, dumber version of Brando because somewhere along the way he heard Brando was a good actor so he watched some tapes of him and just impersonates him over and over again.

Because Hardy, who serves as the villain in this story, basically just tromps around and pretends he is Yosemite Sam. He got nominated for an Oscar for this, which is not unprecedented. Renee Zellweger, who despite hailing from Texas and ostensibly knowing better, tromped around and acted like Yosemite Sam in the godawful Cold Mountain and she won that year.

Here is the problem with this. Granted, I don’t know what Southern accents sounded like in 1823, but Hardy sometimes sounds Cajun, he sometimes sounds like he is from Appalachia, and sometimes he sounds like Foghorn Leghorn if given twenty horse tranquilizers. So he snarls his lines with one of the more absurd Southern accents since Clare Bowen joined the cast of Nashville.

Meanwhile, there are literally no other Southern people in the entire movie. Hardy is surrounded by relatively uneducated country people, but none speak with as much broken English as he does, none are as racist as his character is. While certain elements of this story are based on a real man who survived a bear attack, Fitgerald (Hardy) is an entirely fictional creation and the best the author of the book and creators of the movie could come up with is a malicious, selfish, racist redneck? And the actor depicting him thought being virtually indecipherable with an accent that collectively sounds like it belongs from nowhere doesn’t help matters. The fact the French are bad guys too helps a little, but it nonetheless is a recurring problem in movies I wish we could address, but considering we can’t even get a non-white acting nominee, I doubt it is happening any time soon.

(Note: A very kind commenter corrected me that both Fitzgerald and Bridger were real people that Glass in fact did seek them out upon his return to civilization, though many of his actions in the film are fictionalized.)

I go on this giant aside because my original intent when I went to grad school was to look at how the depictions of rural working class white people in pop culture affect how we view these people in real life. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see people on social media dismiss people as dumb rednecks or blame the whole of racism in the United States on this particular group of people, which is problematic on so many levels I can’t even begin to list them because I will go on for 10,000 words.

And finally, we can talk DiCaprio. He does a very good job credibly looking hurt, being in pain, army crawling, limping, and running from peril. You know who else can do this? Dwayne Johnson, Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, Will Smith, and countless others. Most action movies require at least one cast member to be injured and cope with said injury while running from peril, so why are we acting like what DiCaprio is doing is in any way above the work of the aforementioned actors? Let me stress. Leo is by no means bad in the movie, but can someone, anyone, point me to what is so special about a performance in which he mostly just huffs, puffs, grunts, and says approximately one sentence every 15 minutes?  It is an Academy problem. Matt Damon in The Martian, Tom Hanks in Castaway, and James Franco in 127 Hours each got nods because for some reason acting by yourself is considered way harder than being in a scene with people, especially if you are enduring hardships. Because nothing says “I am an elite actor” quite like pulling out your own tooth or cauterizing your own bear wound. The person who does deserve recognition for his work is young Will Poulter (the funny eyebrows kid), who gives a really stellar performance as a young boy put in a no-win situation.

Basically, this movie was an absolutely visually stuning recollection of a very run of the mill Western. I admire its technical abilities, but when it comes to the soul of this movie and what it is trying to say, what message it wants to send, what theme it wants to hit, I come up empty-handed. If you like movies for just the sheer beauty of what filmmaking can pull off, this is one of the most beautiful, stunning things I’ve seen in a long, long time and it is worth the price of seeing it on the big screen. If you aren’t into revenge stories or John Wayne flicks and cinematography doesn’t do it for you, just don’t bother.

My rolling top five changed a bit with movies not in the running for Best Picture, though the documentary Amy about Amy Winehouse is the frontrunner in that category. As for The End of the Tour, I think I more enjoy David Foster Wallace’s ideas than the movie, and be forewarned it is basically just one long conversation a la My Dinner With Andre:

My Rolling Top Five
1. Bridge of Spies
2. Inside Out
3. Going Clear
4. Amy
5. The End of the Tour

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4 thoughts on “Oscar Outlook: The Revenant

  1. I actually disagree with the idea that the film doesn’t say anything new about revenge. Well… Maybe it wasn’t brand new but I felt the powerful fact that it didn’t bring him any closure.

    I also think the film had a lot to say about humanity. What we will do for survival. What we will endure, what we will do morally, the tough decisions we will make as leaders.

    At the same time the film gives us glimpses of what these men want beyond survival: a better life, to teach and protect their children, to be an honourable man.

    I think there actually is a lot to take out of the film but I understand that the resonance differs hugely from person to person.

    I was sort of touched by the cycle of him caring for his son and his son caring for him. And that part of what kept him going was respecting what he learned from his wife, passed onto his son and that his son reminded him: which is that you can keep going.

    Also, Fitzgerald was not a fictional character (obviously his actions were slightly different in the film) he was a real man who left the real Hugh Glass when he was charged with staying behind.

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    1. Thanks for reading and responding, Sadie.

      I’ve seen a lot of Westerns over the years and that might explain why I don’t find this particular revenge tail stuck out to me. Old movies like True Grit, The Searchers and even the musical like West Side Story are all great revenge tales that convey essentially the same sentiment: revenge is overrated and will only bring on more violence and revenge in turn.

      I definitely agree with you on the bond between father and son being really great. I singled out Poulter, but the kid who plays his son is really talented as well.

      And thanks for correcting me about Fitzgerald! I will be sure to go into the post and make a note about it.

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  2. Jessica, I was pretty sure from the trailer on TV that I did NOT want to watch the Revenent. Your blog helped me totally decide against seeing it. Thanks so much. I’m glad that Inside Out is still in your running list! It was good. Love,

    Like

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