Undeniably epic, this western drama moulded from real life events is beautiful to look at and shows again how masterful Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is as a director, one who could soon become an auteur of this age in film-making wonder. It has to be said that even with all the praise I could muster for this film, it doesn’t rid the slight meh factor of it all.
A large group hunting for pelts to then sell on are ambushed by a tribe, leading to many fatalities. Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) needs to get his few remaining men back to barracks but after experienced tracker Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is attacked by a bear they have to leave him in the hands of Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who end up leaving Glass for dead.
Inarritu is back for awards season one year later after his astonishing theatrical based ‘Birdman’ and this film has the same stamp of directorial authority. The smooth movements of the camera and the apparent love he has for panning shots really present the scope of this wintry landscape. Shot on location in Canada and then Argentina, this movie is a slow burner but the way we calmly float throughout battles, past characters or on shots of snow covered plains helps this film look the part. It may not provide pace but it demonstrates what an eye Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have for creating art in cinema.
Lubezki breathes a bleak beauty over the tundra and cold snap of the environment that Glass must crawl, limp and escape through. The set up of so many shots are fantastic and knowing that the production cut down to only using natural light makes you admire the artistry of making this scenes also. An example of this can be seen as a group of men search a woods, the tall trees like spindly shadows against the flickering yet huge glow of flamed torches.
After seeing the film, there feels like a massive man versus nature theme. The power of nature and how it either helps or hinders the central character truly sticks true. On top of that is an even more felt theme of spirituality. I don’t know how the novel comes across but here in the screenplay by the director and Mark L. Smith it is clear that the notion of God, religion and a stronger power aiding the adventure and toil of Glass’ return to camp is the driving force. Without trying to be critical, it makes the story seem quite pretentious espicially with the amount of arty shots that could have been cut down, in the end of it all it makes the film feel overly long. It just niggles me that the screenplay isn’t really that inspiring and that it’s merely a revenge tale surrounded by great camerawork and dedicated performances.
The score didn’t stand out and happily it didn’t get recognised for awards because it doesn’t really add or take away anything, it’s just sort of there. The prosthetics also bugged the heck out of me as more than a few occasions it’s so obvious that the marks on Glass’ shoulders are fake or the scarred hand is a made-up glove which does detract from the harshness of the movie’s plot.
I honestly loved the near opening ambush scene as we the audience seem to hover in and out past characters whilst a bloody battle rampages around us. The courage and cleverness to know not to cut in the exciting sequences is great as shown when Glass saddles up and rides to escape a tribe before tumbling over a deathly drop. The bear mauling scene is the moment a lot of people will end up talking about, by lordy is it brutal. The CGI is mostly brilliant and the attack just keeps on coming making you want to look away but not at the same time.
Leonardo DiCaprio to be fair does deserve the praise and awards noms he’s getting. It’s a brave role in the fact he doesn’t have a lot to say but what he does speaks more than words. The stuttering movements and the pain in his eyes mixed with the unflinching motivation to gain revenge and his life does enough to see you through the 2 and a half hour trek. Tom Hardy is good but why he’s up for a golden statue is beyond me. It’s a fine watch as he plays the unblinking baddie but there’s not much more to his performance that sparks amazement. Will Poulter is a young actor that is growing all the time and this role hints at the emotion he can provide, the good man routine being a strong characteristic in his arsenal if we try and forget Maze Runner. Domnhall Gleeson steps away from villainous duties after Star Wars and plays a beardy Captain with a steely reserve for his men and to do the right thing, it’s a role the squares up to the might of Leo and to Tom Hardy also.
It’s a longwinded route that we go on following the painful struggle of Hugh Glass and at the end of it all we face a question of whether it’s all worth it. Well for the sheer wonder of how it looks then yes but if you want a more exciting yarn or at least a story with less of an endurance to no avail then this may not be the one to see.