MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy.
If you buy a ticket to see The Revenant and wonder when the preacher is going to show up, you are going to be mightily disappointed. A revenant is not a Minister of the Gospel (that would be a Reverend) but, by definition, a person who has returned from the dead.
That would describe Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a 19th century American fur trapper who was mauled by a bear and abandoned by two men in his hunting party. Glass would travel over 200 miles in the wilderness to confront the two men who left him for dead.
This true-life story was compelling enough to merit two major film adaptations (The first version is the 1971 movie Man in the Wilderness starring Richard Harris as the Glass character.) The Revenant uses the basic premise of Hugh Glass to create a unique and often-ridiculous movie mix tape of traditional Western, revenge drama, Native American spirituality, character study, and survival epic.
The film is less than the sum of its parts, but some of the parts are really something to see. The natural light cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki alone would justify buying a ticket for The Revenant. His vistas of forest and stream, snow and light, are stunning. (Outdoor scenes were filmed in the Canadian Rockies and Argentina.) Leonardo DiCaprio totally commits to his role as Glass, working in freezing conditions under great physical duress and using his body to communicate deeper emotions. And there are at least three stunning sequences (an Indian raid, a bear mauling, and a river ride) that are technically astounding.
But story-wise, the film never comes together. Writer-director Iñárritu rarely fails to impress me with his intelligence and passion for filmmaking, but these qualities overwhelm his pictures, which are ultimately pretentious and overstuffed.
The movie is filled with hypocrisies. The film spends much time admiring the Native American Pawnee, but it also exploits many movie clichés about cowboys and Indians. DiCaprio, cast and crew were required to brave the elements and risk frostbite and other discomforts, while major scenes are created with CGI effects. The film wants to present us with a savage revenge story that is also sensitive and thoughtful. We get a Grizzly Bear attack in the beginning with The Care Bears showing up at the end.
Like last year’s film by Iñárritu, Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), The Revenant works way too hard to intimidate the audience with its self-importance. For the message in this movie, let me quote the apostle Paul: “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” (Romans 12:3 NRSV)
Two halos: A visually stunning but ultimately silly revisionist Western with a great lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Three pitchforks: Intense violence, including brutal deaths, scalpings, and aggressive mauling from a playful bear; cruelty; prolonged hypothermia; a lot of inappropriate cussin’.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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