The Revenant ★★½

I did not like Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I thought it was preening and egotistical, with beautifully filmed terrible performances. It mis-treated its women, overplayed it script and copped out terribly on the finale. As such, I was going to give The Revenant a miss. But I heard enough intriguing reviews, especially from those who also disliked Birdman, to make me interested enough to seek it out in cinemas, a month after it came out.

By the end of the first hour I thought I had made a very good decision. The Revenant has an incredibly well-crafted, exciting, opening act, that is all about the physical. It foregoes most dialogue, any psychology or depth, for sheer thrills. It is visceral, wince-provoking filmmaking, and certainly the best hour of Alejandro G. Iñárritu's career. It looks wonderful. Re-employing the sweeping, edit-less camera's of Birdman, but for actual effect, while the real locations give the film a sense of the elemental. It feels real, in a way that Alejandro G. Iñárritu never has before. The acting from the leads - Leo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson - is big, silent film big, but to a purpose. You don't need dialogue, when you are asking your actors to be this lacking in subtle movements. Hardy, in particular, is not an actor of great talent, but he has a good physical presence, and Iñárritu exploits this.

By the end of the first hour I was completely on-board with all of the praise, the five star reviews and the bubbling audience excitement.

By the end of the second hour I was checking my watch.

The second hour of The Revenant is sludge. Repetitive, mind-numbing sludge. It just covers the same ground, almost literally, over and over again. He falls over, he gets wet. Cut to Hardy or Gleeson, they get wet, they fall over. It is tedious. By 100 minutes into the film, I was thinking about other things, drifting in and out of the narrative. Waiting for another Native American character to be treated as an other, or waiting for a woman to be a spirit or raped. Alejandro G. Iñárritu has real problems with his female characterisation and it is as troubling in The Revenant as it was in Birdman.

The performance stayed constant, there was no growth; the visuals remained spectacular. The second hour bored me.

However, to be fair to Alejandro G. Iñárritu, I found the final thirty minutes really exciting, and it brought me out of the film feeling moderately positive. It is probably my favourite Iñárritu film, though that really is a low bar to jump. The final thirty minutes centres the drama on a physical conflict, it brings the film into focus, and actually becomes engaging again. It is no surprise that the best scenes in The Revenant are the scenes of direct physical or verbal conflict, whether that be between a bear, DiCaprio, Hardy or Gleeson. The worst scenes are drifting, meandering men in scenery sections.

I have seen a lot of comparisons between The Revenant and Werner Herzog, or Terence Malick. I cannot comprehend the comparisons, it has neither the ecstatic truth, or spirituality through editing. Rather, The Revenant feels like Alejandro G. Iñárritu's attempt at Apocalypse Now ("Don't get off the boat") or The Last of the Mohicans. But The Revenant isn't a trek into the heart of darkness, it just barely scrapes the skin.

Surface deep, but for 90 minutes out of 150 minutes, it is a great surface. A mixed bag, to be sure, and one I doubt I will see again, but not wholly unenjoyable.

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