Recently: “The Revenant”

Some films have so much hype surrounding them, good and bad, that it’s impossible to resist letting curiosity get the better of you. However, not all of these films can achieve the desired goal and only end up disappointing some viewers. The lucky films, the ones we like most, can live up to the hype and then some, which only goes to show what a truly unique film it actually is.

The 20th Century Fox film “The Revenant”, is arguably the most intense film experience I’ve ever had and it’s best you see it first in theaters.

This biographical western stars Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street”, “The Great Gatsby”), Tom Hardy (“Legend”, “Mad Max: Fury Road”), Domhnall Gleeson (“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”, “Brooklyn”), Will Poulter (upcoming “Glassland”, “The Maze Runner”), Forrest Goodluck (“Gaming (Short 2014)”), Duane Howard (“Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts”, “Arctic Air”), Arthur Redcloud, Mela Nakehk’o, Grace Dove (“The Cut”, “These Walls (Short 2012)”), Lukas Haas (“Tooken”, “Dark Was the Night”), Paul Anderson (“In the Heart of the Sea”, “Legend”), and Kristoffer Joner (“The Wave”, “Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead”).

The film is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, “Biutiful”) and written by Mark L. Smith (upcoming “Martyrs (2015)”, “The Hole”) and Iñárritu (“Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”, “Biutiful”). It is based on the book “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” by Michael Punke.

The film originally opened in limited release on Dec. 25, 2015 and a wide release on Jan. 8, 2016. The film would go on to be nominated for 12 Academy Awards; winning three, four Golden Globe Awards; winning three and nine Critics Choice Awards; winning two among many other nominations and wins.

Even with an impressive trailer, I never was too certain of what exactly I’d get from this film. The scope was huge, you could tell right away, and it brought with it incredible and lofty expectations. This film, even if it didn’t have the exact runtime for it, brought with it this epic feel, like a film from the ‘50s or ‘60s. There was so much story to tell, but it could still only be achieved in a set amount of time. When stories started to break on how difficult the shoot was, especially as the filmmakers were aiming for an authentic feel, the interest in the film rose. I had to know what these people were talking about, and that’s before I even started to weigh what critics thought. When the film finally opened, after months of intriguing news, I jumped on the chance to see it immediately! I couldn’t wait, because of excitement and the need to be one of the first to see it on opening weekend. With the exception of a few obnoxious moviegoers, the experience was nothing short of breathtaking! Definitely worth the price of admission and one of those rare films where it is absolutely meant to be seen in theaters.

I cannot speak enough on the cinematography. If you allowed me to, I’d go on and on, but I won’t. It is unlike what any other person could’ve delivered. I find that without the impeccable overall style of shooting that Emmanuel Lubezki (“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”, “Gravity”) did, the entire film experience would be different. I don’t think that means the film would be bad or less good? (something?), but there wouldn’t be that overall feeling of awe. I also find, especially since this is the experience I got, that I wouldn’t have been as immersed in this film. Rather quickly I was pulled into this world and thrust into the action that made up these characters lives, and seldom was I ever released from it. Just when I thought it was okay to breathe and relax, another event would begin. Which is how the film maintained it’s momentum. It was just continuous movement from event to event, as the film’s epic story unfolded, and even when things seemingly slowed down, there was always some kind of tense energy bubbling right under the surface. And so, back to Lubezki’s work, It is though this camera work, that I found myself not just seeing a beautifully shot and made film, but I got, for 2015, the most intense experience in a single film. I’d say it allowed for me to be as close to part of the action as I could get, and it was also the best way to make me feel that. I truly can’t think of another film that’s done this.

I mentioned awe and beauty, but didn’t explain where that came from, even if I suspect you’ve already figured it out. It’s from the wilderness environment, regardless of where they actually shot. Lubezki knew how to showcase all of what the earth provided to him, and the rest of the cast and crew, and also its dangers, as they applied to the characters in the story. By delivering both, as an audience member, you can not only see so much more, but truly feel everything that occurs, no matter the character or the feeling. In terms of eliciting emotion, not just from characters, this has got to be one of the most effective ways of achieving this. You’ve got your own as you watch the film, and the ones you feel from what happens to the characters. It’s quite a rollercoaster.

Another backbone of this film, regardless of where the actors got their strength and inspiration, is the acting. Honestly, it’s difficult to say. I love each character, and got very clear ideas on how this world shaped them, but exclusively with acting, I’m unsure. This film isn’t one that could really yield bad acting. Even Poulter, who was most notably in that terrible, “The Maze Runner” film, was nothing short of amazing! I have such high hopes for him now. It’s the conditions they shot in, if it’s to be believed, that drew most of the reactions from the actors. Well, to some extent that is. Still, it helped really bring this man’s story to life. Some people may look at this as a negative, but the thing is, these actors aren’t just using the elements to draw a performance, as it’s now easier to do so. No, they’re having to focus on their respective character, and everything else that makes for a complex and believable performance, as well as a character we can understand, and like or dislike. I’m sure there’s also some other aspects I’m not thinking of.

As with all films, there are many other components that are needed to effectively bring a given film to life. I swear I wrote this not long ago. I really gotta stop. Anyway, the same is true here, but with a massive and noticeable difference. The wilderness plays a much bigger role than in most films involving the outdoors.

To quickly breeze through, the costumes, sets, and the makeup effects were all top notch. Not only did everything look authentic to the time, but it was all constructed in such a way so as to evoke beauty that no doubt existed then too. And, of course, there’s the brutality, which was effectively showcased as well. And simply seeing these sets out in the wild, was itself something to behold. You don’t get that often, and here it’s not just one thing to get you into a setting, it’s so much more and on a grand scale. Multiple parts had to be working in order to pull this off, and it looked completely real. By that, I mean the various props and sets were all built for this, and on location. I can’t imagine much CGI being used.

The wilderness is everywhere. There’s not a moment you’re not living and breathing the outdoors. Every moment captured on film by Lubezki pout you in there and kept you there. In some ways this wild and untamed world is like a character. The elements are so harsh that they act as a natural obstacle, and at times seem like there’s no getting around. Again, the way the wild was captured made sure it was all worth it, that it told you the magnitude of what each character had to face.

For me, any conversation about this film wouldn’t be complete without talking about the Native American actors that populated this film, even if, sadly, they’re portraying some horrible and murderous people. It’s just a fact of the time. There are two things being accomplished here. First, a major inclusion of Native American actors in a major motion picture, or any motion picture for that matter, and second giving a realistic portrayal of an Indian tribe at that time. This must mean something, right? Surely the performance from Goodluck won’t be forgotten any time soon. He held his own up against some top notch actors, and that’s not easy to do.

When I initially thought of this, it dawned on me that this film had the opportunity to point out that Hollywood doesn’t really have a lot of Native American actors in its films. Nor do a lot of people like to include them when discussing diversity and the need to improve on it. We’ve spent a lot of time these last several months talking about diversity, and I can’t help but look at this film as a shining example of another minority group that has actors that should be given opportunities and recognition. Again, this film’s representation may be in a terrible way, but you couldn’t have this film work without it. Now let’s see if Hollywood can move past this and make stories featuring Native American’s in different, more modern and relatable roles.

Some films should only, at first, be seen in theaters. The experience ultimately demands it. Sure any film may be fun in theaters, for several reasons, but those are typically just your average popcorn film. In some cases, seeing a film on the big screen gives you the full and intended experience. Every breathtaking, shocking and emotional moment can truly be felt, and you can marvel at the filmmaking as well. It’s one of the reasons why we even bother going to the movies in the first place.


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