Major Style, Over Substance: A Review of ‘The Revenant’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 08, 2016
Major Style, Over Substance: A Review of ‘The Revenant’

Movies can come into this time of year with such an immeasurable hype that no matter how much they do right it still doesn’t get there when it counts.  The Revenant is a stunning jaw dropper of an experience that grabs on to you and doesn’t let go as it gives us a world that is something akin to Apocalypse Now meets John Ford…but it needed a little more story behind for it, because looking epic, just isn’t enough.

The uncharted American wilderness was a dangerous place even on the best of days, but when deep into Indian territory hunting for pelts, it gets that much more dangerous.  After an ambush decimates the expedition, they are forced to hide what pelts they can in order to get back to base and survive.  Leading them back is legendary Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), however things get worse when he viciously attacked by a bear, left for dead and to top it all off betrayed by the man tasked to watch him, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a prideful man who kills his son in an effort to save himself.  Fueled by sheer will and the desire for revenge he must survive the elements in a brutal winter in order to set things right.


Writer/Director Alejandro González Iñárritu follows up the Oscar winning Birdman with a jaw droppingly harsh and beautiful film which ultimately suffers from issues of style over substance as the narrative is weak forcing the actors to over compensate to bring their work up to the standard of the visuals around them.

Easily one of the more emotional evocative pieces of cinema that I have ever been fortunate enough to witness as Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki paint a portrait of a cold, harsh world filled with pain, suffering and regret.  They almost, and I said ALMOST make this movie work as a piece of stunning cinematography that actually brings the landscape and the forest to life as a character unto itself, but the meat of it all is just too darn thing.

I’ll go out on a limb, but as Iñárritu worked with co-writer Mark L. Smith (whose previous work includes the horror thriller Vacancy…and not much else) that they just didn’t pull enough from the novel by Michael Punke that this was based on (or at least that portion of the novel).  The characters are basic, not very well fleshed out and for a 156 min movie; you really do need more than two guys doing any of the heavy lifting.

To their credit, both DiCaprio and Hardy bring their A-Game’s here as they try and make this story “Inspired By True Events” jump off the page but there just isn’t enough there to make it all work.  Leo gives a great physical performance and Tom Hardy can snarl and chew scenery with the best of them, but at the end of the day they get lost in the wilderness.  You are supposed to see the forest for the trees and not lose them in the background, and that is exactly what happens.  This movie is so goddamn stunning that anything else that makes a good movie, like compelling characters and a fleshed out story get washed away in the spectacle, and it all plays a little too basic then it should.revenant-xlarge

Don’t get me wrong, The Revenant deserves to be seen, but Leo will have to keep chasing that elusive Oscar as the narrative just lets him down more than it really should have.  This is just really expensive art-house cinema that won’t work for as many people as it hopes it does.

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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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