The Revenant ★★★

I was going to just knock off a smart-ass little one liner … ‘Hiring Mr. Lubezki does not a Malick film make’ … but I’ve been writing too many of those lately, and Alejandro Iñárritu deserves more respect than that. Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel are all films I’ve seen, enjoyed, and respected. I was on the ‘loved’ side of the divisive Bird Man.

I do believe in the nut of that quip I was going to post. I think Iñárritu began to change with Birdman, and the biggest evidence of that change was saying goodbye to long time cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and striking a new relationship with Chivo.

Rodrigo Prieto is no slouch, but he’s a cinematographer that doesn’t draw attention to his work. His shots always seem to convey a kind of intimacy that worked so well with Iñárritu’s previous works; works that were complex character interactions. His lens didn’t get in the way, but rather provided a warmth and radiance. Birdman was kind of a hybrid. It retained the trademark character studies, but added a visual flair. Many criticized both the story and characters being too much up their own ass, and the simulated single shot contribution of Lubezki as being gimmicky. I didn’t, and I applauded this new turn.

The Revenant is another story though. It’s like Chivo dialed up to 11. Every shot a picture postcard of awe inspired visual goodness. I think that’s the main problem. The cinematography was constantly shouting ‘look at me! Look at me!’ Even the colour grading stood out ( blue night sky / warm fire lit colour on DiCapprio’s broad craggy face. ). Reducing the story to a simple revenge and man against nature plot didn’t help, as all that was left was the cinematography, and DiCaprio acting the shit out of a role that would have benefited from a more nuanced rendering.

I have the sinking feeling that Alejandro Iñárritu’s new phase is not so much about growth, as it is about gaining EPIC cred in Hollywood. There is no way this film should have cost $135 Million to make. I honestly think that Iñárritu has sold his soul. Unfortunately, Alejandro, you’re no Terrence Malick.

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