The Revenant (2016)

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****/*****

For Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s second blockbuster hit, we are transported to Montana and South Dekota, USA during the 1800s – a time where selling animal pelt, horses and weaponry were the main source of income, with a backdrop of blistering cold.

Following the style of camerawork displayed in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Inarritu uses carefully constructed long takes which give the film an artistic and professional edge of flawless and meticulous construction. The stunning locations, carefully picked and lit without artificial light sources, enable the film to stay true to these stunning locations – by shooting them as naturally as possible. As awkward and painstaking this may have been for the production crew by giving them only a certain amount of shooting time throughout each day, the end result gives a depth and earthiness to the picture.

The use of only natural light brings a deeper and richer tone to the films’ colour scale – with intense blues that melt perfectly into the bright whites of the snow, and are not lost in the greys. The contrasts of colour, like blood on snow or intense golden sunrises over the frozen landscape are wonderfully captured.

The way that the film encapsulates trees, water and snow is crucial to the construction of these locations in the film – with wide angle shots of forests and rivers that emphasise the vast space of this arctic wasteland. Inarritu uses clarity of water as a reflective tool often, keeping the film as close to and as tied in with nature as possible.

One interesting point to make about the cinematography was the way in which close ups are used in the film. When a character is framed in a close up of their face, and they breathe, the camera lens steams up. This technique is used in order to accentuate the freezing temperatures of the characters’ surroundings – but it also brings the audience out of the action by reminding them of the medium – you are watching a film and are asked to be aware of that. I believe this is a great way of engaging the audience with the medium by asking them to be aware of the films’ technicalities.

In ties with the cinematography, is the films’ use of sound. A tribal style is used, with drums and percussion making up the main bulk of the films’ score – which can also be linked to the sound used in Birdman. It fits perfectly here, though, as a subtle tool used to build tension – which is used particularly well in the films’ climactic ending.

It would be impossible to review this film without talking about the visual effects. The infamous grizzly bear scene has become a major talking point when referencing the film, even amongst those who have not yet seen the movie. The bear was made completely from CGI, and when shooting the scene Leonardo Di Caprio was harnessed up and yanked around by production crew members. The grizzly was added in during post-production, and the end result is brutal and hard to watch, as Di Caprio delivers a blood-curdling scream of pain as the digital bear rips at his skin.

The reason for creating the bear completely from CGI was due to bears of this day and age being too ‘fat’, as Inarritu stated, and that bears in the 1800’s looked much different to the bears that we see in captivity today. The bear created for the film is realistic in texture, appearance and the way that it moves, and its’ interaction with Di Caprio’s Hugh Glass is incredible in its’ believability despite the actor having nothing to interact with during filming. In addition to the bear, a model horse and buffalo, and make-up scars that Di Caprio wears  all stand out as incredibly realistic visual effects.

One of the films’ biggest flaws is it’s simplistic storyline, which features some decent-sized loopholes. The biggest example would be the complete indestructibility of Hugh Glass. He is mauled horrifically by a bear until he is unable to move and speak, however without any medical attention (bar some rough stitching under no anaesthetic) he somehow manages to get to his feet and survive weeks of trudging through -20 degree landscape. This is supposed to be an epic survival story, sure – the difficult and near-impossible experiences of a desperate man – however some of the films’ events are so wildly insane that they pull you out of the story to think ‘really?’.

The length of the film is difficult too, but instead of a flaw I found this to be one of the films’ merits. Nearing three hours of slow, long takes and repetitive action with limited dialogue finds you wishing for something exciting to happen, and willing for the plot to move ahead. This impatience that the audience feels is a great feature of the film, because it forces the audience to be patient and appreciate the small details and Glass’ struggle. The urgency you want the film to take gives Inarritu the power, and the audience is ultimately rewarded by a spur of intense action with quick cuts and action that leaves you gasping and hanging off the edge of your seat.

The cast were a credit to the film, with incredible performances from all. Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson give heartwarming, strong performances as the films’ ultimate good-guys, victims of circumstance with great senses of morality – which shines through in their performances. Leonardo Di Caprio may be faulted by others for his lack of dialogue – for most of the film he is alone and wounded, grunting his way through the film. To me, however, this is exactly the reason he should be given credit for the film. He relies solely on  body language, on emotion, and without the luxury of playing off another actor. You believe that he is in pain. You believe his sorrow for his losses. And in addition, he really did eat a real, raw bison liver, and the vomiting reaction you see is genuine – due to Di Caprio being a vegetarian. If that doesn’t scream dedication, I’m not sure what does.

Tom Hardy’s performance as John Fitzgerald, the films’ antagonist, is near flawless. In his best, well-recognised villain voice, Hardy portrays a nasty, calculating murderer – and so well that you can’t help but hate him. The films’ climactic last scene between Di Caprio and Hardy brings together the creme-de-la-creme of acting ability in an intense and heart-pounding few minutes of fast cut action, perfectly acted and brilliantly executed, leaving the audience dizzy from excitement and satisfied with the final outcome. A rollercoaster of emotions ranging from eager impatience to stunned silence to intense anticipation, The Revenant is not to be missed.

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The Hateful Eight (2016)

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****.5/*****

The Hateful Eight. The 8th film by cinematic artist Quentin Tarantino. Released on the 8th.

What poetry is this? Once again we are transported to a world of strong and resonant characters, unrelenting violence and perfectly poetic dialogue.

Where to begin with this film? The locations. Set in the deserted landscapes of Wyoming, America, post civil-war. Thick with snow, and just in time for a blizzard, the film opens with beautiful wide-angle shots of open space, panning slowly to accentuate the desolate landscape with only John Ruth’s (Kurt Russell) stagecoach in sight.

The four-seat stagecoach itself is intimate – a wonderful location to kick off the action and hold in the delicious tension that Bounty Hunters Ruth and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) create and extend to criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and new Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) during their journey. As with many Tarantino movies, heavy dialogue plays its’ part in this film. Eloquent language that you as the audience get wrapped up in and taken away with, the stagecoach journey is wonderfully used as a devise of delving into these characters and learning important traits and historical information that becomes crucial as the plot thickens.

And of course, Minnie’s Haberdashery – the centre stage. One room that contains all of the action for the rest of the movie. A bold move on Tarantino’s part – at risk of boring the audience with a singular location, he masterfully blows this idea out of the water by using action and dialogue that keeps tension and excitement of the audience flowing throughout. The rich reds and deep mahoganies of the Cabin are a stark contrast to the blues and whites of the arctic exterior.

The cinematography of the film is masterful, with long and slow landscape shots to emphasise space and engulf the characters (as I have aforementioned), perfectly framed characters and intelligent use of Motion Blur, with pans and tracks that help to build tension and leave the audience on the edge of their seats. One of my favourite things about this movie is the way that each shot is individually motivated – planned so meticulously so that every little detail that you see is present for a reason.

It’s impossible to talk about Tarantino’s style without mentioning the lack of chronology and use of chapter titles in The Hateful Eight. Chaptered sections help to break up the action of the three hour epic into smaller, more digestible chunks, whilst also giving off a professional storytelling vibe. Not unlike his work in Pulp Fiction (1994), Tarantino tells this story partly out of sequence in order to heighten suspense and give a more rounded, juicy reveal of the films’ final twist.

As you will probably know by now, The Hateful Eight recently won itself a Golden Globe in the form of Best Score, which was written by Ennio Morricone. This was the first completely original score for a Tarantino film, which was composed, orchestrated and conducted by Morricone himself – and includes 50 minutes of original music. In my opinion, the choice to use original music gives a more personal and intimate feel, especially with a Western film.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Tarantino film review if not to mention unconventional characters and unique acting styles. Samuel L. Jackson’s Warren is exactly as you would hope he would be, slick, confident and luxurious, with a quick-witted tongue and even quicker skill with a gun. Russell’s John Ruth is wonderfully arrogant and brash, spouting hilarious insults as he drags prisoner Domergue behind him. Tim Roth’s performance as English Hangman Oswaldo Mobray is wonderfully slimy, irritating and funny – which somehow brings Christoph Waltz to mind. Leigh’s performance as Domergue is applaudable – as an almost reptilian-like villain, constantly half-smiling through her bruised eyes and bloodied nose. In amongst these actors, there is an unexpected appearance from a very popular, typically un-Tarantino-esque actor which both shocked and excited the audience, which was kept very hushed from public promotion.

To sum up, Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature is masterful, intricate and keeps you on the edge of your seat, regardless to the 187-minute running time. Split into even Chapters, the audience is lead carefully through each scene on a journey that ultimately leads to the demise of at least one of the characters involved. If you are a fan of Tarantino movies, this film will not disappoint. It holds all of the typical features of a Tarantino film, but within a more intimate framework.