REVIEW: The Revenant

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The Revenant
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by: Mark L. Smith & Alejandro González Iñárritu (screenplay), Michael Punke (novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter

Leonardo DiCaprio endures such an excruciating array of torments in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant that by the time he guts a dead horse, strips naked and climbs inside it to keep warm for the night, I couldn’t help but laugh in pity.  The movie, set in an unspecified area of the American frontier in the 1820s, is a series of grueling endurance tests for his character Hugh Glass, and its payoff is a brawl that paints the snow red and fills it with chunks of skin and bone.

The Revenant is a predictable, hyper-masculine revenge story told with a brutal beauty. Glass is helping navigate a group of fellow frontiersman after their hunting expedition, though the movie wastes no time before pummeling the group with violence.  As they rest in the woods, a Native American tribe surrounds them and attacks;  arrows pierce throats, bullets rip through bodies. Much of the scene unfolds in a single take. The camera follows a person, usually until they die, and then picks another.  Unlike Birdman, Iñárritu’s underwhelming showbiz satire that was filmed as if it were all a single shot, The Revenant’s visual design enhances the movie’s other elements instead of overwhelming them.

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Short Takes: Birdman, Nightcrawler & St. Vincent

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Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is a stale, one-note show biz satire with an ambitious and occasionally dazzling formal design. Led by a manic performance by Michael Keaton as a washed-up super hero movie star attempting a comeback on the stage, Birdman weaves in and out of his Raymond Carver adaptation with a string of impressively executed tracking shots.

Birdman is more about executing and fusing those long takes than about saying anything exciting or fresh about theater or performance, though.  Iñárritu’s images are sleek but ultimately bland and empty, and the story about a middle-aged man reclaiming his glory is too.  Keaton’s performance as Riggan is the loudest, but I was moved more by Andrea Riseborough as his co-star and Lindsay Duncan as a bitter New York Times theater critic.  The two actresses have an irrepressible screen presence, and they quietly steal scenes from the self-parodying turns by Keaton and Edward Norton.  Grade: D+

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