[D]irector Alejandro G. Inarritu has made a film to admire, but one whose pacing allows for the audience to take themselves out of the experience to, well, be impressed.
The point is: director Alejandro G. Inarritu has made a film to admire, but one whose pacing allows for the audience to take themselves out of the experience to, well, be impressed. And for storytelling, that's not a good thing. It's almost as if the filmmaker's showing off. "I can do this, I will do it, and you will love me for it." His last picture was Birdman, which had a one-take gimmick that also had this potential, but in Birdman there was always something going on to distract us from this. Here, watching DiCaprio crawl around for five straight minutes gives our mind plenty of time to wander.
One of the only consistent elements to keep us focused is Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography. That's to be expected, as Lubezki has won the Best Cinematography Oscar two years running. He'll likely get a third straight for The Revenant, which is so pretty that it almost feels at a conflict with the raw, unflinching, and often disgusting action happening on-screen. Some of these shots are just so gorgeous you want the film to pause and let you admire them. That, however, would just hurt the pacing further. The Revenant plays weirdly because, with many of the individual scenes, the pace is frantic. But as a whole, it's glacially slow.
DiCaprio is the film's biggest draw, reminding us that he's such a versatile actor. This is the best physical performance of his career, easily, taking it up a notch as each scene passes. It doesn't require much in the way of heavy drama or line delivery; this mostly just him fighting against nature. It's like the super-Quaaludes scene from The Wolf of Wall Street, but with a more grueling setting and stretched over a two-hour period. Tom Hardy is good but doesn't stretch even as much as he did in this year's earlier Mad Max: Fury Road - where even then he played second fiddle - while Domhnall Gleeson probably comes away best out of the supporting cast. He's had such a tremendous year.
The Revenant is a dish best watched on the biggest screen possible, and also possibly with enough caffeine in your system to ensure you make it to the end - although preferably delivered in a way that will keep you from having to use the restroom before all's said and done. The moment to moment action of the film is often gripping, although the film is paradoxically incredibly slowly paced on the whole. Its difficult shoot is impressive, and yet it - and the overall slow pace - makes you think about the filmmaking process, taking you out of the story being told. DiCaprio is great in a physical performance, although Glass isn't terribly interesting as a character. And it's beautifully shot. It's a film of small contradictions. It ultimately all works, and is well worth seeing, but only for those wanting to endure an overlong and tough - albeit impressive - watch.
Bottom Line: An impressive technical accomplishment but not the most engaging story, The Revenant is a film to admire, but not necessarily one to love.
Recommendation: The Revenant is a tough watch thanks to its running time and brutal content, but if you're up for it, it's worth seeing.
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