The Revenant

12 Oscar nominations – but just how good is it?

Leading the pack with 12 nominations from the 88th Academy Awards  is ‘The Revenant’. Often that information is not necessarily an indicator on how much the general public will like it, but how much a small committee (who may not have actually watched all the films) liked it or think it deserves mention. Happily, in this case, ‘The Revenant’ is worthy of most of the acclaim it is receiving. The film is starkly beautiful yet bitterly bleak. It’s uncompromising and devastating, leaving the audience in a state of emotional destruction. However, it’s not perfect. It’s overlong, losing much of the audience about two thirds in, more of an endurance test than entertainment and certain aspects are not as good as the film (or the awards committee) seem to think it is. To break this down further, whilst remaining spoiler free, I will divide this review into 5 sections- each guided by one of the nomination categories.

Performance by an actor in a leading role: Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”

Poor Leo. It is a truth universally acknowledged,  then laughed at, that DiCaprio is the bridesmaid of the wedding ceremony that is the Oscar’s. Always the bridesmaid, nominated six times, yet never the bride. It’s fair to say, after watching ‘The Revenant’, that he really deserves this one. There’s not only what he clearly must have gone through behind the scenes, the below freezing weather conditions, and what was required from him, a man on the edge of death crawling back in the name of vengeance, but what he manages to achieve with the performance that surely must put his name inside that envelope.  His rage at what has been done to him and his family pours out through every pore, exposing it with every look, gesture and expression. He truly makes everything that happens to him, not matter how seemingly unbelievable it is, seem real and dragging us along with him for the bitter journey.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role: Tom Hardy in “The Revenant”

Now this is a bit of a strange one. Having known that he had been nominated I spent all of Hardy’s screen time analyzing his performance – looking for that moment or reason  that explained it. But neither moment nor reason came. He’s good, yes, but it’s Hardy in weird, strange and rambling mode. The performance is pretty one-dimensional and rather one-note, supplying little reason for the audience to care for what happens to him. Also at times his speech enters into Bane-levels of incomprehensibility. Compared to the other four candidates in this category (Christian Bale in “The Big Short”, Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight”, Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies”, Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”) Hardy seems almost shoe-horned in. If the academy really wanted to acknowledge supporting performances in “The Revenant” it would be far better acknowledging either Domhnall Gleeson or Will Poulter, both of whom provide performances far deeper than Hardy’s.

Achievement in cinematography: “The Revenant,” Emmanuel Lubezki

Yes. What makes this film so successful, every event so brutal, is that all occurs in a manner that is oxymoronic. The camera dances across the landscape, panning, tracking and weaving across the wondrous yet terrifying unknown that is capable of much beauty and brutality. You’re lulled into a false sense, admiring the scenery, then you’re shocked back to realising just how dangerous this world is. Without this, the film would be far less memorable or emotive.

Achievement in costume design:  “The Revenant,” Jacqueline West

Whilst costume is great in this film, this award needs to go to “Carol,” Sandy Powell, for which the costume really captured the era and the mood.Through costume alone it made every character, from speaking roles to walk-ons,  feel real with an enriched back not matter how seemingly unnecessary they were . With “The Revenant”it was the cinematography over costume that created the overarching tone.

Achievement in directing: “The Revenant,” Alejandro G. Iñárritu

To bring such emotion out of a cast, as with this film, a director must be extraordinary. The power Iñárritu’s cast generate tells just how magnificent he is. My only criticism would be that the implied power and complexity of the final act is not as powerful or complex as he may have intended.

 All in all, “The Revenant” is more than worth watching. It’s an experience that needs to be experienced on the big screen. However, it’s not light-hearted entertainment or those who are easily shaken.  An impassive musing on man’s plight which does not shy away from harsh realities.

In The Heart Of The Sea

The mostly true story behind Herman Merville’s Moby Dick

For the next couple of weeks Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be dominating the cinemas. As a consequence the box office of many other films will take a hit, particularly those who have an audience that will overlap with it. This film is unlikely to be an exception. Though it is entertaining enough it is also remarkably old-fashioned, solid yet ultimately uninspiring.

Herman Merville (Ben Whishaw), having travelled a long distance, knocks on the door of Innkeeper Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). Thomas is renowned as being the last survivor of the the last voyage of the Whaleship’ Essex’. Herman offers Thomas a large amount of money for the story, having heard rumours that it involves a monstrous whale. Thomas takes much persuading, by both Herman and his own wife (Michelle Fairley). The story goes back thirty years, to when a then 14-year-old Thomas signed on as a cabin boy for the ‘Essex’, a  ship owned by a greedy whaling company who had refitted the ship to participate in the lucrative whaling trade. Experienced whaler Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), who worked his way up in the industry, had been promised a promotion on the ‘Essex’ is informed that if he does this one last job as first mate he will finally get that promotion. Instead the role of captain goes to George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Though his family have much experience in whaling, he does not. He has much theory but this is his first time of putting it into practice. Owen and George immediately clash as soon as the ‘Essex’ sets sail, with Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy) playing intermediary. Months drag on and with little sign of whales they decide to go further out, to a place renowned for it’s countless whale occupants. It is also infamous as being dangerous, a land haunted by a monster whale. But plagued by greed and a desperate want to return home and end this horrific voyage. It’s the first time that Owen and George agree on something. It could also be their last as they soon discover, with deadly consequences, the monster whale is real. 

Sometimes the phrase ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ has positive connotations, indicating a degree of regret at how few films are as good as the one just seen. Otherwise the phrase is uttered with a degree of relief or surprise, that films like this don’t get made very often any more. The later interpretation is the one that is most accurate here. When watching it was hard not to bite back a smile at just how old-fashioned and almost dated certain elements were. We have the greedy corporation which happens to be led by Donald Sumpter, who is recognisable for playing characters with questionable ethics. The young boy being mentored by a heroic older figure, the fact he is an orphan means the older man becomes a surrogate father. George Pollard, whose family is historic and renowned for their role in the establishment of a whaling industry, is portrayed as a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth and a stick up his bum. Obviously because he is a foil to our hero, and was born into wealth and the role means he had to be portrayed with minimal sympathy and maximum arrogance… The examples are endless.

Primarily it is the characterisation of Owen Chase, played by Chris Hemsworth, that really stood out in this regard. (The fact he was played by a Hemsworth would have meant that he snared my interest no matter what…) Hemsworth’s portrayal of Owen is in that grey area of admiral attempt at convention into pastiche. Through lighting, framing, costume and positioning alone he is established as a Byronic hero. In fact it is almost surprising that each time the camera focuses upon him angelic music and a halo of light does not appear. Owen Chase is liked by all, known to be a ‘good man’. He is loyal to his friends, adored and admired by all, yet quick to anger and driven by personal gain. Though Hemsworth is a fine actor, his character he has so much effort placed into being admirable that Owen Chase ends up being rather hackneyed.

Aside from this, the narrative is engaging enough. The appearances of the whale are filled with enough tension to entertain. The effects, camerawork and performances are relatively impressive; as is the irony that surrounds the whole affair. The message of In The Heart Of The Sea and of Moby Dick is of greed and obsession.This film was due to be released nine months earlier, in March of this year, but was delayed as it was wanted to be released during Oscar-season and therefore be entered into the awards race. Instead of releasing it  during a down-time of cinema, when it would probably had a solid audience and box office takings, it will be released little over a week after the juggernaut that is Star Wars. Not only will The Heart of the Sea lose out on possible turnover, but it’s just not good enough for awards season. Perhaps it will win some for cinematography, sound or special effects, but there is little here that deserves anything more than that. Deciding to chase the metaphoric monstrous whale could prove fatal for this film.

Though mostly entertaining it strays too often to predictability. It’s also too vanilla to decide what genre it wants to be, if it had stuck to horror and developed the tone in that way then it would have been far more memorable that the bland romp that is presented instead.