Earlier this week we were treated to the exquisite gossip that Leonardo DiCaprio was (not really) violated by a fake bear in The Revenant. This produced some the silliest/most hilarious headlines in recent memory, and it only got funnier after Fox issued an official denial. But it was also kind of weird to watch the whole thing go down, because I left a screening of The Revenant on Monday night and almost immediately made a bear rape joke. Does DiCaprio actually get violated by a CGI bear? No, of course not. But while elements of the bear attack are gory and scary, it’s also kind of silly, because even though the effects are generally good, it’s still patently fake and some of the wire work is wonky, and the bear looks cartoony from certain angles, and the bear does toss DiCaprio around like a rag doll. I didn’t fall under the spell of The Revenant, so it was an obvious joke to make.
And now I’m going to make more jokes about The Revenant, because this is basically a live action Road Runner cartoon, and DiCaprio is Wile E. Coyote. DiCaprio stars as Glass, a frontiersman hired by an outpost to guide a company of trappers and soldiers as they hunt and skin everything that moves in Wyoming. From the beginning, anything that can go wrong does. Indian attack, bear attack, murder attack—the only thing that doesn’t happen to Glass is an anvil hitting him on the head. (The Revenant, aka A Series of Unfortunate Events.) It’s one catastrophe after another, up to and including Glass falling off a cliff and landing in a tree. The only thing that scene is missing is an Acme safe dropping onto him.
The technical aspects of The Revenant are insane—this is a gorgeous film to look at. The cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity) is absolutely stunning, Stephen Mirrione’s (Birdman) editing is sharp, and though DiCaprio is the one digging in the dirt for an Oscar, it’s Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson—who is in everything this year—who really stand out. Hardy stars as Fitzgerald, a racist pioneer douchebag and the source of all Glass’s problems—well, besides the bear—and Gleeson is Captain Henry, the soldier responsible for their trapping expedition. But it’s DiCaprio’s show as he’s alone on screen for much of the movie, and he makes sure to get your attention by Acting! To! The! Max! (The Revenant, aka ACTING!: The Movie.) He gives a physically committed performance, but he doesn’t come across half as naturally as Hardy or Gleeson.
There are scenes in The Revenant that work really well, like the opening First Nations attack on the trapping party. It’s brutal and fast and bloody, and director Alejandro González Iñárritu utilizes the same continuous-take technique as he did in Birdman, which makes it feel visceral and chaotic. It’s a tremendous scene, and the amount of craft that went into it pays off. But most of the two and a half hour-plus run time is dedicated to DiCaprio staring into the middle distance, which is indulgent nonsense. The movie is markedly more engaging when the focus is on anything else, including the horse carcass. (The Revenant, aka Reverse Horse Birth.)
The Revenant doesn’t have the verve of Birdman or the passion of Creed, and if you, like me, are not inherently fascinated by Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor, then it becomes a slog to get through. I can’t help but wonder what this movie would have been like had Hardy and DiCaprio switched roles. Probably better, because Hardy is a far more engrossing performer, and also, DiCaprio is better as a villain (see also: Django Unchained). It’s too well made to say it’s bad, but despite the visuals, it’s not particularly enjoyable to watch. I do appreciate that the Native characters are interesting and have their own agency, though the only women we see on screen are victims of violence, including actual rape. (The Revenant, aka Pioneer Bro-down.) But it disappears up its own ass too often to be the immersive experience it’s intended to be. If you just want to jerk off over the technical aspects of a film, then The Revenant is the film for you. But if you want actual—thrilling—emotion, go see Creed.
Also attached - Leonardo DiCaprio at the 21st Session Of Conference On Climate Change in Paris today.