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The Revanant: Beautifully Realised Revenge Drama, Worthy of it's Buzz
Following up on last year's Oscar-win for the technically daring and wonderfully original, Birdman, writer-director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu could well see more Oscar glory once more with his latest directorial marvel, The Revenant.
The story is set in the early 1820's and it follows the fate of American frontiersman, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), who is helping guide a team of fur trappers through the wilderness of the American West. Led by Andrew Henry (Gleeson), the unit, including John Fitzgerald (Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Poulter), soon comes under attack by a rioting Pawnee tribe, leaving them boat-less and with fewer men than they started with.
Making their way back to base through the unforgiving terrain on foot, the unit is once more faced with a challenge when Glass is attacked by a mother grizzly bear. Badly mutilated, yet somehow still alive, he is soon placed under Fitzgerald's care, who, along with Bridger, has volunteered to stay behind until he dies so that they can give him a proper burial. After having grown tired of tending to his needs, Fitzgerald decides to leave him for dead; a move which only motivates Glass to fight through the pain and seek revenge on those who abandoned him.
Loosely based on Michael Punke's novel titled, The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, Inarritu's canvas of choice here is a vast landscape of wild and seemingly unexplored beauty – a complete opposite to his entirely interior setting in Birdman - whose visuals are captivating and aptly intimidating. Bathed in natural light, the work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is truly a force of its own as he goes on to capture the magnificence and the gritty brutality of the story with a great amount of realism and detail. Story-wise, the script – co-written by Inarritu and Mark Smith – is equally enthralling and the somewhat familiar subject of man vs. nature, thanks to Inarritu's superbly feral and brutally primal approach to the topic, feels new and welcomingly different.
Watching the fiercely committed Leonardo DiCaprio embrace the physical and mental struggles of his character, elevates the already excellently executed film and the Oscar-buzz currently surrounding his performance is completely merited and well-deserved. But Leo isn't the only player that deserves praise. Hardy is a force to be reckoned unto his own and is arguably as imposing as his co-star; he commands every scene masterfully, offering further proof of his immense capability as an actor.
Bloody, gritty and at times hard to watch, The Revenant is not an easy way to spend a hundred and fifty six minutes of your life, but what many have failed to talk about in light of the Di Caprio buzz, is that, as a whole, The Revenant is beautifully envisioned story of revenge which, thanks to wonderful cinematography and a couple of powerhouse performances, has resulted into one of the most captivating viewing experiences of the year.
Those going in expecting an action-packed sci-fi adventure, complete with explosions, flying space-ship battles and a full-on war between humans and their extraterrestrial visitors, will be severely disappointed with Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Taking on a more philosophical approach to things, Arrival is an intelligent and a thought-provoking alien-invasion thriller which revels in its own complexity and manages strike all of the right chords, but for a few missteps.
Based on Ted Chiang’s short story titled Story of your Life, the film begins with the arrival of twelve mysterious alien spacecrafts which position themselves at twelve different locations around the globe, igniting fear and paranoia amongst the residents of Earth.
Recruited by Colonel Weber (Whittaker), linguist Louise Banks (Adams) – along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Renner) – is brought to Montana to help deal with the possible threat by making contact with the aliens in order find out who they are and what their intentions may be.
However, establishing communication with the visitors is not as easy as one would have hoped with Louise soon discovering that the aliens have their own language which uses symbols to communicate. Deciphering their tongue into a language they can understand is no easy task and with the threat of a global war between humans and aliens on the verge of a breakout, Louise must work hard to suppress her own personal demons in order to get the breakthrough she, and everyone else on the planet, needs.
Following his success with a character-driven drama like Prisoners and intense drug-thriller, Sicario, Villeneuve turns to sci-fi this time and manages to deliver yet another impressive – and by far the most ambitious – piece of work. Tackling some rather big questions about life, time and what makes us human, the script - written by Eric Heisserer - works as both a character-focused drama and a sweeping sci-fi adventure. Drenched in an enigmatic aura of the unknown, the pacing is slow and purposeful with Villeneuve unraveling the story’s mysteries steadily but thoroughly, keeping the tension and momentum high, while composer Johann Johansson’s original score, infuses the story with plenty of atmosphere and mood.
Delivering yet another powerful performance, it’s not a stretch to say that Amy Adams is the true star of the show; embracing her character’s strength and vulnerability with plenty of presence and grace, Adams delivers on all fronts, while Renner, although not used as much, is quietly effective.
All in all, Arrival is a winner and although it does struggle a little bit with trying not getting too lost in its own complex ideas, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, touching and moving sci-fi films you will see this year.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.