Film Review: The Revenant (2015)

Release Date: December 16th, 2015 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Based on: The Revenant by Michael Punke
Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, Bryce Dessner
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Lukas Haas

Regency Enterprises, RatPac Entertainment, Anonymous Content, M Productions, Appian Way Productions, 20th Century Fox, 156 Minutes

Review:

“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.” – Hugh Glass

*Written in 2016.

This is the best movie I’ve seen in 2016. Okay, it is the first movie I’ve seen in 2016. Regardless, it is fantastic.

I guess this fits within the western genre, although it takes place 30-50 years before most westerns. It is mostly a revenge film that takes place on the American Frontier in the era between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It features vast wilderness, dangerous Native Americans and a big barrel full of badass.

The film reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, who worked together in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Both actors deliver but when don’t they?

Tom Hardy’s portrayal of John Fitzgerald is chilling. He’s not a cool villain or one you can even sympathize with. He is a cold blooded piece of shit and damned good at that. Hardy created a memorable character that will be despised for generations. For as simple and straightforward as the character of Fitzgerald is, Hardy turns something somewhat generic into something exceptional. Fitzgerald is a beast and is certainly the devil of the film. No one feels entirely safe when he is in the scene.

Leonardo DiCaprio was stellar. Playing the legendary character of Hugh Glass is no easy task, especially considering the elements he would have to deal with as an actor. Glass’ journey is heart-wrenching to witness. DiCaprio adds intensity to Glass’ struggle to avenge his son’s death. He is incredibly believable in his display of unrelenting drive. He is eaten and ravaged by a grizzly bear, broken to pieces and essentially buried alive and yet he crawls and fights his way 200 miles through severely harsh territory to track down Fitzgerald. And every step of the way, DiCaprio sold it.

Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu has a track record of great films. This may be his greatest. He delivered an exceptional story that was beautiful to look at. The landscapes were massive and made everything feel so desolate. The environment was an extension of everything in Glass’ heart. The action sequences were beautifully shot and orchestrated. The final showdown between Glass and Fitzgerald is one for the ages.

The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who collaborated with Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto, was an amazing piece of work. It was very original but captured the emotion and depth of the film. It was an endless and epic string of music that perfectly accented every scene.

The film has a running time of just over two and a half hours. That may seem lengthy but it is one of those movies that is so good, you don’t care. It is kind of a let down when it does end. Not because the resolution was bad but because it was a hell of an emotional adventure and you aren’t entirely ready to walk away when the credits role.

This film truly captures the feelings one has in the aftermath of revenge better than any other film I have ever seen. What happens when the fox finally catches the rabbit? This film makes you feel it.

This is close to a perfect film in that I can’t find any real flaws with it. I guess the only complaint is that the CGI was noticeable in two scenes but it is so minor it really isn’t a total distraction. Especially, when atrocious CGI has become the norm in Hollywood.

The Revenant is a classic film. It should be beloved for generations by those who enjoy badass wilderness films. As I said, it isn’t a traditional western and doesn’t really exist in that time period but it has the heart and the spirit of the best films in that genre.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: Birdman (2014)

Release Date: August 27th, 2014 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo
Music by: Antonio Sánchez
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 119 Minutes

birdmanReview:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu seems to be making the sort of films that the big wigs in Hollywood seem to love. Michael Keaton seems to be having a real career resurgence over the last few years. So seeing the two collaborate is really interesting. Throw in an all-star cast on top of Keaton and you might find yourself with something truly special, at least on paper.

Birdman is a fairly refreshing film. It has some very unique elements to it but it doesn’t necessarily tread new or daring territory. It is a movie that I’m on the fence with.

Let me talk about the positives, many of which should be quite obvious, even without seeing the film.

To start, the acting is incredible. This is one of the best performances of Michael Keaton’s career. He truly shines and really lets loose. He also looks like he is intimately enjoying his craft.

Zach Galifianakis is a guy I’ve never been a fan of. However, he shows that he has what it takes to reach the next level and I enjoyed him in Birdman. Edward Norton gives one of the best performances of his career. Granted, he is always great in just about every role but this is up there with his part in Fight Club for me. Emma Stone, as good as she is, has never been better. Naomi Watts was also solid but didn’t have a lot of screen time, which is also how it went for Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. These three women were stellar but needed more time to shine. Riseborough especially won me over.

The direction was very good and Iñárritu got the most out of his cast. The cinematography was phenomenal; the color palate and the lighting were stunning. The score to the film was perfect, as the jazz drummer flawlessly built up the right kind of tension and mood from scene-to-scene.

Now as far as the plot goes, there wasn’t much there to captivate me. Sure, Keaton’s Riggan is a good character with a lot of complexity but I’ve seen this story before. It is about an old actor, past the prime of his career, trying to hold on to his fame and asking himself, constantly, what the meaning of everything is. It is a midlife crisis playing out on film from a self-absorbed, sometimes douchebaggy man, that seems more like a spoiled child that can’t handle it when reality starts to set in. Therefore, he creates a fantasy world in his head, which sometimes teases that it might be real but never is. In fact, the teases get kind of annoying, as the overall story is more interesting than these little psychotic flourishes throughout the picture.

People often times question the film’s ending, asking if he actually did have these special powers or if there was some hidden meaning. The final scene sees his daughter look to the sky and smile, supposedly confirming that her father can fly like Birdman, the famous superhero he played twenty years prior. Throughout the film, you see people react to Riggan’s use of his powers in his fantasies. Why would the ending be any different? I think it is to signify that Riggan is still slightly mad, as opposed to it proving that he isn’t actually crazy and that he truly has superpowers. In fact, I feel like that was absolutely obvious but people want to read too much into things and have debates for the sake of debating. I don’t see it as an ambiguous ending at all. But it’s good for the filmmakers, as people will discuss it for years to come.

I did enjoy the film, despite the things that just didn’t grab me. It is certainly a showcase of great acting, directing, the use of music in film and cinematography. It is the type of film that a film lover loves. However, from a writer’s standpoint, it just feels very thin and not as unique as it tries to be. So many other films have walked the line between the real and surreal and done it much more effectively. Look at Terry Gilliam’s work for example.

It is also hard to not see the similarity between Birdman, the fantasy character, and the bird wings sprouting from the back of Jonathan Pryce’s character, in the midst of his fantasies in Gilliam’s Brazil.

Rating: 8/10