Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Revenant (2015)

Loosely adapted from a novel by Michael Punke which in turn was based on the real life (or certain events) of American frontiersman Hugh Glass. The word loosely being key here as much of what we see in the film is highly fictionalised, I'm unsure if the novel suffers from the same inaccuracies. Alas with little evidence from the era, even from Glass himself, its very probable that this tale grew into legend over the centuries via exaggeration. That's not to say it didn't completely happen, but this is the nature of things from history, over time.

The plot has morphed from survival into revenge in this movie. Whilst fur trapping in the great Northern Plains (modern day Dakotas, 1823), a group of trappers are attacked by native Americans (Arikara) and suffer heavy loses. The trappers retreat back to their base of Fort Kiowa on foot, on the advise of their much experienced guide Glass. The natives take up pursuit because their chief believes his daughter has been abducted by the trappers, or at least they know who has. Whilst scouting ahead Glass is attacked and badly mauled by a fully grown grizzly bear protecting her young. The men find Glass close to death and tend to him as best they can, they are now in a pickle without their guide and obviously bogged down having to carry Glass on a stretcher. Fellow trapped Fitzgerald believes they should kill Glass quickly to end his suffering and enable the rest to make it back to the Fort, but unable to do this their leader, Henry, offers money to those who will stay with Glass until he dies. Fitzgerald, Hawk (Glass's half native son), and the young Bridger agree to wait with Glass. Eventually Fitzgerald grows tired of waiting and tries to kill Glass but is discovered by Hawk, Fitzgerald thusly kills Hawk and lies to Bridger. Fitzgerald then manages to convince Bridger to abandon Glass so they can head back to the Fort before more natives arrive and the weather becomes worse. Of course Glass is still alive and now very much intent on getting his revenge.

So for starters, yes, much of this story is in fact bullcrap if we are honest about it. For a start in this movie Glass is set up with a native wife and half-native son which is pure Hollywood magic, merely to get the plot nice and tasty with Fitzgerald ultimately killing his son. This is all fiction as there is no evidence whatsoever that Glass had a relationship with a native women and he apparently didn't have a son, there is only mere suggestion that Glass may of had interest in a native woman. So although this entire angle looks and feels good on screen, showing Glass to be a kind, liberal type bloke (because they gotta do that these days), its all made-up which, for me, detracted from the film a little. I had no real investment in the relationship between these people because I knew it was all fictional which generally isn't a problem in movies of course, but when its a historical drama based on real events, that's when made-up stuff can become a problem, for me at least.
This also, unfortunately affects the subplot surrounding his son too. Obviously we are led to believe Glass is close with his son, firm but close, he protects him from the racial attacks that come along with being half native (obviously during this era). So when Fitzgerald kills the boy in cold blood, right in front of Glass's eyes, again I still didn't really feel anything because I knew its fictional, never happened, this young male character doesn't exist, so who cares. This is the problem with this movie as a whole, the entire plot is essentially non-fictional basically, but the whole revenge side of it is just Hollywood and kinda ruins the actual real side to the story. Whilst we watch DiCaprio craw on his face back to civilisation, which is genuine and thrilling, its spoilt because we all know he's doing it mainly for a fictional revenge plot where people are obviously gonna die in a nasty way...which never happened, *groan!*

Now don't get me wrong about DiCaprio's performance, he does a fine fine job here there's no doubt about that, or does he? Well its tricky really, director Inarritu and DiCaprio himself were both quite happy to throw caution to the wind and really push out the boat in terms of endurance and stamina. By that I mean DiCaprio did numerous very real things to really capture the moment, really capture the hardship, pain and torture that the real Glass must have gone through. No Leo wasn't actually half eaten by a real bear, although I'm sure given half the chance...but yes he did actually eat (or bite into) a real Bison's liver which did make him gag (kept in the film). Although, wouldn't a man from that era, especially a frontiersman, probably be somewhat used to eating things like that? I doubt he would of gagged, so maybe a fake liver would have been better there. The bear skin Leo wore, draped across his back, was in fact a real bear skin which when wet weighed over 100 pounds, and real wax was used on the bear fur to help insulate it against the cold, as was custom back in the 19th century. No the dead horse carcass Leo sleeps in overnight was not real I'm afraid and neither were all the innards surprisingly, but it is possible (although not confirmed) that Leo did actually chomp into a real fish. Other than obvious things like the CGI bison, bear, horse off a cliff and lots of very good looking makeup, the one thing that was always very real was the weather and Leo dragging himself through it. Yep this film looks cold, damn cold, its all real, its all bleak and desolate, and in short it all looks superb, natures dangerous beauty. To top that, what we see, everything, every shot, is captured utilising real light, nature, no CGI trickery, sets, lighting etc...its all natural light and you can kinda tell. 

But did DiCaprio really perform that well? did he really deserve an Oscar for this performance? debatable. Putting all the organic torture porn aside what did Leo actually do? Yes he acts well when required, but its nothing outstanding quite frankly, to be honest Tom Hardy put in a much better performance with his southern 'Silence of the Lambs' type drawl. What we got from Leo kinda felt more like reacting rather than acting, he wasn't really doing anything that anyone else wouldn't do in those very tough scenarios, such as acting bloody cold, stumbling around, crawling around, bleeding a lot, grunting a lot when hurt etc...Now I'm not saying actin in this way is a walk in the park, of course not, but for someone of Leo's talents it probably was a walk in the park for the acting side of things, I don't really think it truly showed us anything Oscar worthy. Essentially DiCaprio won an Oscar for doing gross things, challenging things that you could almost describe as dares, go into that freezing river half naked and eat a raw fish, I dare you, I'll film your reactions. On that note stuntmen should get Oscar's for their dangerous roles in movies. On the other hand I truly believe Leo got the Oscar simply because he had been overlooked so many times that the Academy really thought it would be taking the piss if they overlooked him again, hence he got it almost by default of losing so many times with much better performances. But I digress.

So the movie looks terrific, we see the American wilderness in all its natural beauty, yes. The performances are all solid, yet ironically its DiCaprio who does little more than merely grunting, gritting his teeth and looking unwashed for the whole time, and of course the story is an emotional rollercoaster that totally engages you...right? Errmm...kinda, like I already said the plot is messy because they shoved too much made-up crap into the mix which totally destroys the historically accurate element of it. But the other issue I had was what exactly I was suppose to get out of this movie? The strength of the human spirit is tremendous when it wants to be, its very uplifting to a degree, and the survival aspect is astonishing (what little of it is actually truthful), but its all actually very emotionless. That might sound weird but its true, this movie/story is more like a car crash that you can't look away from, you watch it out of morbid curiosity more than anything else, once Leo's fictional son gets killed off there is no real engagement (was there any before? not really). Sure Glass is dragging himself back to civilisation to kill the man that killed his son, but is he? You don't actually ever get that vibe, it just feels like he's dragging his ass back to civilisation because he obviously doesn't wanna die.  I also have to agree with Hardy's character Fitzgerald, in that same situation, in that era, the chances of someone surviving a serious injury or attack would be small, for many obvious reasons. So what would you do? risk many lives for one that is already half dead?? of course not, I think most you have suggested the same thing Fitzgerald did. Its actually surprising that the majority of the men didn't agree with Fitzgerald both in this movie and in reality, apparently. 

All I really got from this film was the achievement of actually making it. The fact they only had certain times during the day they could shoot (to capture the right natural light) so they had to be on their marks every time, they filmed during sub-zero temperatures, all the crap Leo had to do blah blah blah. The shoot was physically demanding for all involved, agreed, the way they shot the film was innovative, daring and original, agreed, and in the end the final result is a beautiful looking picture, agreed. Thing is, this is simply yet another Hollywood fairytale (plot wise) with all the usual stereotypical ticked boxes that have been crowbarred into, and over, a piece of actual history. Its not a bad film by any means, I just didn't get anything out of it other than how good it looked, besides the visual gloss there's nothing really new here.