Last year Iñárritu gave us the inventive and wholly original Birdman. Trying to top or even equal that film was never going to be easy. His follow-up to that feat is this year’s, The Revenant. If there was an award purely for audaciousness, he’d get it. Unfortunately, a movie has be more than a feat of effort, it has to be good, and I can’t quite get behind it as a good movie, though there are certainly aspects of this film worth experiencing.
Top of the list for the good is Emmanuel Lubezki’s (Birdman, Gravity) cinematography. It may well be a lock for the Oscar this year. Done wholly in natural light and framed with an incredible sense of story, the view of this movie is just as, if not more, powerful as the tale it presents.
The four main performances are also quite solid, though Leonardo DiCaprio’s (The Great Gatsby) is a little flat due to his fairly straight-forward plotline. Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) gets to have a lot more latitude and, yet again, melts into his role such that he practically disappears. Will Poulter (Maze Runner) and Domhnall Gleeson (Brooklyn) fill in the rest of the top-line, whiteman roles. Neither was particularly brilliant, but both served their purposes well. Duane Howard on the native side is about the only character that stands out, and he is as much a stereotype as you might expect in a quasi-Western survival tale. Certainly he was given no interesting dialogue or challenges as a character. One surprise, though in a rather small role, was Lukas Haas (Transcendence).
This is a film with vision, and the making of it will become legend given its challenges. As a story, however, it is rather predictable, overly long, and not very satisfying. It didn’t leave me with any new thoughts or ponderings, it didn’t give me a new view of the time period, and I never really cared much for any of the characters, though I certainly sympathized with DiCaprio’s plight. Perhaps I’m just not the target audience for this kind of story, but I usually can appreciate any well-told tale, regardless of genre. Honestly, if you need a return-from-the-dead(ish) Western, watch Pale Rider. At least that has some sense of whimsy to it all and a good story to tell.