'The Revenant' is a good, but not great, revenge saga

Inspired by true events, “The Revenant” tells the story of an explorer named Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. 

Coming off some major love at the Golden Globe Awards, “The Revenant” manages to be as good as advertised and kind of underwhelming at the same time.

Anchored by strong work from Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film “Birdman” has plenty of high points but suffers from an overstuffed 156-minute running time.

Inspired by true events, “The Revenant” tells the story of an explorer named Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. 

Not only is Glass left for dead, but he watches helplessly as one member of the hunting team named John Fitzgerald (Hardy) murders his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck).

This sets Glass on a mission to survive and hunt down Fitzgerald, with hopes of avenging the death of his son.

“The Revenant” really sets the bar high with two great set pieces in the opening hour. The first is a brutal battle between the hunting team and Indians and the second the bear attack, which had received a lot of buzz even before the film was released.

Those two sequences are so good that it is hard for the rest of the film to live up to those lofty standards.

Inarritu does paint a beautiful portrait, with the landscape and harsh conditions serving as characters of their own. But even that feels a little overdone, with the director sometimes going to that well a little too much.

DiCaprio is likely headed to an Oscar in a role that is physically demanding (He reportedly ate raw bison liver for the film and slept inside a carcass to maintain the authenticity of the character), but I’m not sure if it really stands out as much as some of his previous work.

For me it’s Hardy’s performance that is more intriguing, playing a man guided by his own moral compass, which is clearly skewed from what other people perceive as right and wrong. Fitzgerald doesn’t see the wrong in his actions because he believes it is the right thing to do, a tricky bit of morality that Hardy conveys quite well.

The struggle between these men is so intriguing that once we get to the final confrontation, it is kind of a letdown.

Perhaps if “The Revenant” had been trimmed a little bit, the film could have found the greatness it clearly aimed to achieve. 

Opening this week

Finally arriving in Bowling Green this week is “Carol” (A), the new film from director Todd Haynes that was my pick for the best film of 2015.

Like his 2002 film “Far From Heaven,” “Carol” – based on the Patricia Highsmith novel “The Price of Salt” – deals with taboo relationships in an era that shunned anything but the stereotypical nuclear family.

But where “Far From Heaven” drew its strength from the performance of Julianne Moore, “Carol” has a pair of Oscar-worthy turns – with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara delivering two of the year’s best performances.

Blanchett plays the titular character, a woman in 1950s New York in a loveless marriage, who takes up an affair with a young female clerk in a Manhattan department store named Therese (Mara).

Therese is also in a heterosexual relationship, but the more she is around Carol, the more she can’t deny there is an attraction.

The duo set out on a road trip to escape from Carol’s estranged husband (Kyle Chandler), but the relationship is endangered when Carol’s husband threatens to take custody of their young daughter.

The parallels between the two films makes “Carol” a perfect companion to “Far From Heaven,” but this film packs plenty of surprises.

Unlike “Far From Heaven,” which dealt with a housewife coming to terms with the discovery that her husband was gay, this a love story – exploring the budding relationship between these two women.

Haynes gives the story an almost dreamlike, poetic quality with strong use of colors and angles that demands the audience’s attention from the opening frame. This is a film that uses the whole screen, making use of every inch of space possible, with some Oscar-caliber cinematography from Edward Lachman.

Chandler and Sarah Paulson, as a friend and former lover of Carol, are both very good in supporting roles – with layered nuances in both performances that help take the film to unexpected places.

But it’s Blanchett and Mara who really shine, with performances that capture the passion in the relationship and the discovery – not just of this affair, but of themselves as well.

There is so much beauty in their work. No film has touched me more in 2015 than “Carol.”

It’s one of the best films of 2015.

“Carol” is rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language and opens Friday at the Regal Greenwood Mall Stadium 10.

— To read Micheal Compton’s thoughts on Thursday’s announcement of this year’s Oscar nominations, visit his blog at bgdailynews.com/blogs/reel_to_reel or on Twitter at twitter.com/mcompton428. Email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.

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