October 6, 2022

I was not a fan of director’s Alejandro González Iñárritu’s last film Birdman (A movie that won the Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture), but there were things about it that I liked. Mostly I hated it for failing to bring any of that together; Birdman failed for me because for all the time it spent criticizing others it had nothing to say for itself. It was an experience that left me feeling empty. The Revenant also doesn’t come together at all, but in a very different way.

Man finds God in the forest. God is a squirrel. Man eats God.

I was not a fan of director’s Alejandro González Iñárritu’s last film Birdman (A movie that won the Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture), but there were things about it that I liked. Mostly I hated it for failing to bring any of that together; Birdman failed for me because for all the time it spent criticizing others it had nothing to say for itself. It was an experience that left me feeling empty. The Revenant also doesn’t come together at all, but in a very different way.

This movie’s greatest sin is being boring. This is a two and a half hour movie that never should have been more than an hour and a half. There’s just not enough story. The movie shows off many scenic vistas, but to no end, it just crams one or two into every cutaway. Sometimes it’s just cutting too and from Leonardo DiCaprio being asleep. At a certain point I’m just rolling my eyes at them: “Oh great, ANOTHER scenic vista. Whoop-de-do.” It’s kills any kind of pace from developing. They are very pretty, to the point where I’m not sure if they’re getting in the way of the plot or the plot is getting in the way of them.

This is part of a larger problem. The pitch of this movie is a gritty, realistic western, where the filming was an actual nightmare for everyone involved. However, in reality this is much more of a vanity project for Iñárritu himself, with DiCaprio along for the ride to (probably) win an Oscar. The movie is a vehicle for rewards in a way that made it kinda stink as a movie for me. Plot, character writing, and pace all take a backseat here, and to me the ego in the room kind of drowned out the movie. Sometimes literally with the overbearing soundtrack actually drowning out dialogue in places.

For all the focus on realistic color, and the filming on location in actually harsh conditions, and talented actors; this movie felt very fake to me. All of the, very pretty, shots just scream out “I am a director, look at me!” It was a constant distraction for me.

On top of that the movie has a lot of blatant, forced religious symbolism. From early on there keep being shots looking up at the sun, which has a big lens flare effect on it. The Lens flare is one of those things that builds up the fourth wall to remind you that you’re watching a movie, and at first I was really confused why a movie that, theoretically, wanted to be gritty and realistic was breaking that illusion so obviously. “Is this some kind of religious symbolism” I thought? Then the movie used that shot to show the ruins of a church in a dream sequence. So yea, it is religious symbolism. The lens flare is God I guess?

That’s not the end of it. DiCaprio emerges naked from the corpse of a corpse that he hollowed out to sleep in like a tauntaun in a way that clearly indicates he’s being “born again.” Tom Hardy, the villainy villain, tells the story who found God in the forest, but God was a squirrel so the man ate god. It’s all just very heavy handed and forced. The movie is more interested in its religious message than it is in characters and plot, which is just not what I’m into.

There’s no subtlety to Iñárritu’s technique, everything has to be hammered on and on. A man can’t just get stuck with an arrow, he also has to fall into a fire. DiCaprio can’t just kill a bear and spill down a hill with it, it also has to land perfectly on him. Tom Hardy can’t just be a bad dude, he has to be the worst dude in the world.

It doesn’t help that DiCaprio’s character isn’t very likeable. The movie has like 30 minutes to establish him and his relationship to his son before shit goes bad for him and it does almost nothing with that time. He has two real interactions with his son: First he yells at him that he needs to be invisible because people only see the color of his skin, and then later he makes sure to tell him that he is in fact DiCaprio’s son. In the first scene DiCaprio comes off like a racist jerk, not that his instruction isn’t accurate, there’s just so much hate in the way he delivers it, It made me not like him. Then, when he does try to show affection for his son it’s that weird, cold declaration of lineage. I was just left feeling like DiCaprio’s character saw his son more as his possession rather than someone he loved. On top of that, the dream sequences he has focus almost entirely on his dead wife. It’s just weird to me that while the plot is driven by DiCaprio’s desire for revenge (Even if that plot does move at a snail’s pace) the movie doesn’t seem to care about the emotional connection there at all.

There is one female character in the movie (Not counting DiCaprio’s dead wife). Her role in the movie is to give DiCaprio his “save the cat” moment so that we know he’s a good person and not just a revenge monster when he goes out of his way to save her from being raped. Once he saves her though the movie completely forgets about her and I wasn’t even sure where she went when the scene ended. DiCaprio just runs off on his own.

So yeah, this is the kind of movie where a Native American woman is raped just so that we can feel a little better about our white male protagonist.

Not that she’s alone among characters the movie just forgets because it doesn’t care about them. Basically everyone besides DiCaprio’s character gets forgotten or ignored, in favor of following DiCaprio’s story. Which would be fine, except that his story is less interesting, with less going on than any of the myriad of stories we just get glimpses off. His story also should have been very easy to tell and not taken nearly this long.

There’s also a goodly amount of casual racism towards the Native American characters. It’s the kind that Hollywood movies have always had, and yet. We even get a heaping helping of the “Noble Savage” trope. He and DiCaprio stick their tongues out at some snow flakes. It’s dumb and a bizarre tonal shift to give us some downtime in a movie where our protagonist spends half of the movie asleep.

I don’t hate this movie, I just think it sucks.