Talking Movies

January 14, 2016

The Revenant

Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu goes into the wild with Leonardo DiCaprio for a survival story in the Old West.

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DiCaprio is Glass, a scout for an expedition led by Domhnall Gleeson’s Captain Henry, hunting for animal pelts along the Missouri River. But this puts them into dangerous proximity to ‘the Ree’ aka the Iroquois Nation. After a surprise attack by the Iroquois, who transpire to be on a Searchers mission for their chief’s kidnapped daughter, the pelt party has to literally abandon ship and head into the snowy mountains. Unfortunately that’s when Glass has an intimate encounter with an irate bear. And when the antagonistic Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is left in charge of his care, while the rest of the party trek on, you get the feeling this won’t end well. Sure enough Fitzgerald ditches a not quite dead Glass in a shallow grave. Glass though claws his way out, and clings to life for the sake of revenge…

Not that this is a revenge movie. There’s about 20 minutes of revenge at the end. Prior to that you are watching a survival movie which quite often feels like a feature ‘Old West’ special of Bear Grylls: Born Survivor aka Man Vs Wild. Glass utilises a number of Bear’s tricks: he rearranges stones in a river to catch fish, scoops the guts out of a horse to hide inside its carcass to avoid a storm, uses a flint to light a fire, and even manages to break his fall off a cliff by using a tree. The one unconscionable thing he does is eat snow, which Bear has repeatedly warned against; but as Glass had lost his canteen at that point he probably gets a Mulligan. DiCaprio gives a committed performance, proudly displaying a kinship with Pierce Brosnan when it comes to the grunting and moaning in pain school of physical acting, while Hardy is a good antagonist; his naked self-interest quite probably as correct as Peter Weller’s misgivings in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski shot only in natural light in what seems little more than creating unnecessary difficulties in order to prove their worth as artistes. It doesn’t add much to the cinematic experience, these landscapes speak for themselves; indeed it grates when you’re asked to marvel at CGI animals when you’ve seen the real bison and wolves in The Hunt on the BBC. The Iroquois attack is spectacular because of the shooting style, but thereafter the in-DiCapario’s-face affectation becomes annoying. You wish the camera would back up about four feet and jack up another five so you could have some sense of location and action. There is a scene where gravely injured Glass gets down from a cliff in one startling jump-cut, the total lack of establishing shots makes you wonder if he just rolled over the edge…

The Revenant is 2 hours 36 minutes but it flies by. An engaging how-to manual for surviving the Old West ought not be confused with high cinematic art though just because its makers made its shoot a living hell.

3/5

January 20, 2012

Top 5 Bear Grylls Extractions

I’ve become hooked on Discovery UK’s midnight re-runs of Bear Grylls: Born Survivor so this is probably only the first in a series of lists celebrating his adventures.

(5) Jumping into a river in West Texas
One of the most visually arresting exits in the series has to be the moment Bear disappears from sight and is revealed to have jumped down a very sudden precipice into the Rio Grande. It’s the suddenness of the transition from scrambling over boulders to just running and leaping into space that makes this. And as rivers go it’s one guaranteed to alert people to your predicament merely by being in it.

(4) Hopping a truck in Alabama
The end of Southern Comfort comes to mind as Bear, covered in reddish mud as protection against a raging bushfire, comes back to winter forest that isn’t on fire, and suddenly hears a sound. It’s a honking logging truck as it slows down for making a turn around a bend, and Bear runs like hell and slides down a hillside to cut it off, and hits the road just in time to board it.

(3) Jumping onto a rope in Louisiana
Bear stands on the roof of a flooded house in Louisiana and the chopper comes in and dangles the rope-ladder as near him as it can. Which isn’t all that near. Bear takes a leap of faith and roars off the roof and out over the flooded water teeming with snakes, alligators and disease but manages to grab the oscillating rope-ladder with both hands and stay firmly on as the chopper pulls away.

(2) Chopper rescue off a temple in Guatemala
Never start a fire on an ancient monument unless it’s a survival situation is the rider Bear issues to viewers before setting one on a Mayan temple in Guatemala. He then dashes up the temple to get higher so that he can reach the rope-ladder dropped down for him and swings off after the chopper, barely missing the trees when the rainforest reasserts itself. And, oh joy, leaves the fire burning strongly…

(1) Hopping a train in Montana
Walking along train-tracks to get back to civilisation is a good idea, following them through a long tunnel to avoid having to schlepp over the hillside is not such a good idea. The sinking feeling that the tracks are suddenly vibrating leads Bear and his crew to run for all their worth to dramatically dive out of the narrow tunnel just before the train rampages out of it, and then they bloody hop it!

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