[Review/podcast] The Revenant (or Clash in Canada: Blood Sports Part II)

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What would happen if we just had Leo DiCaprio breathe heavily into a microphone for two hours?

This movie should not have been called The Revenant. It should have been called something silly and generic like Clash in Canada: Blood Sports Part II, because The Revenant makes it sound like the kind of movie that possesses a plot, or thrilling action scenes, or things that happen for a reason. The Revenant has none of these.

Oh sure, it all starts off well enough: a bloody Indian raid in broad daylight, visited upon a group of hapless American trappers in mid-western Canada leaves most of the Americans dead and drives the rest off upriver in their boat. These shattered few must now survive a mighty trek back through the mountains with winter on the way, seeking a path to Fort Kiowa, the nearest trading outpost and place of refuge. And no, sadly, there are no mines of Moria for them to take exciting shortcuts through.

The question is, who will lead them on this epic quest? Why, Leonardo DiCaprio, of course, the only thing on the movie poster, playing the quasi-historical character of Hugh Glass, frontiersman and all-round wilderness hero. Well, sort of.

As you might imagine, in true Hollywood inevitability things soon go terribly wrong for Glass and his bumbling crew of hunters, and thus at about the twenty-minute mark we move on to the major feature of this so-called feature film. That is, the heavy breathing of Leonardo DiCaprio.

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Tom Hardy says back off, hombre.

That’s right — perhaps fifty percent of this film’s soundtrack consists of some variation on Leo panting, groaning, coughing, sighing, grunting or, indeed, moaning. It is incredible. For ten minutes at a stretch nothing more exciting might happen than Leo crawling painfully through Canadian hinterland to the rhythms of his own tortured breaths.

Then, invariably, something bloody and horrible will occur, and then the film will disconcertingly cut back to some sweeping shots of a peaceful river, or a close-up of melting ice, or some other silent panorama, before depositing us back with Leo’s writhing form, close enough for his gasping breath to fog the camera. Needless to say, this gets uncomfortable very, very fast.

There is precious little to qualify my dislike for The Revenant. One is the stellar performance of resident Hollywood badass Tom Hardy of Batman Bane fame playing John Fitzgerald, a conniving son-of-a-gun who betrays Glass and leaves him for dead. The other qualifying factor is the setting. The shots of Canada are pretty breathtaking when they’re not drenched in blood, but they’re very out of place and seem shoe-horned in to artificially and jarringly break up the action. Other inexplicables include an irrelevant tribe of vengeful Indians, a floating and equally irrelevant dead wife, and the sheer gratuitousness of the violence.

The Revenant seems to me to be the end result of a rather poorly-formed concept. I imagine it as an exercise in which director Alejandro Iñárritu explores the question of what would happen if we just had Leo DiCaprio breathe heavily into a microphone for two hours, and then set it in the 1800s because why not? Apart from Tom Hardy’s over-the-top badassery, there is very little to recommend The Revenant. Unless you like pointless, unstructured gore, do yourself a favour and go watch something else.

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