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Review – The Revenant (15) [2016]

The Revenant - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alejandro Iñárritu – 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, Birdman

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Carsten Nicolai
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto – The Last Emperor, Snake Eyes

With the awards season under way and, in particular, with the OSCARs coming up, one invariably asks: what does it take to win the most prestigious award in the film industry? An exceptional performance is unquestionably a prerequisite. But what differentiates one exceptional performance from another? Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant gives a compelling answer.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) being mauled by a bear during the expedition.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) being mauled by a bear during the expedition.

The Revenant is (loosely) inspired by the real-life story of Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). While on a hunting expedition in midwest America in the 1820s, Glass is mauled by a bear. Injured and, after having watched the murder of his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Glass is left for dead by his fellow expeditioners. Thirsty for revenge, Glass treks through the wilderness to get back to his base to seek his vengeance.

The Revenant is an astonishing tale of survival. The film cuts no corners and shows mother-nature in all her brutal severity. From the grisly effects of an attack by a wild animal, to putting men in situations wherein their worst personality traits thrive, to fearsome wintry weather, to harsh and seemingly endless terrain, to hunting for food without strength, The Revenant makes one suffer and tests a one’s endurance to the limit.

Certainly, our central protagonist, Hugh Glass/Leonardo Dicaprio, is tested to the limit and made to suffer. He suffers unimaginable physical and emotional pain throughout the movie, and it is for this that DiCaprio is the front-runner to win the OSCAR for Best Actor in a Leading Role. If there is a formula to win an OSCAR, it is that an actor/actress must suffer. In 2011, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth and Christian Bale won their respective OSCARs by suffering; in 2013, Anne Hathaway won hers for suffering; and, in 2014, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won their OSCARs for the same reason in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Now that DiCaprio has (sufficiently) suffered, he will almost certainly win his first OSCAR; especially, as he has suffered years of being over-looked (Saving Gilbert Grapes, The Aviator, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street to name but five), and because none of his rivals for the fabled prize (Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Matt Damon and Eddie Redmayne) appear to have suffered much (if at all) in their respective roles, despite their respective performances.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the expedition with Hugh Glass.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), on the expedition with Hugh Glass.

DiCaprio undoubtedly suffers considerably in his role in The Revenant and will deserve his OSCAR if he wins it. Ironically, though, he is outshone by his co-star Tom Hardy; yet, it is not a given that Hardy will win the OSCAR for the Best Supporting Actor. Hardy, as John Fitzgerald, has a much meatier role than DiCaprio. DiCaprio spends much of his screen-time grunting, walking, falling or crawling (oh, and surviving); while Hardy devours the screen with his (incomprehensible) southern accent and his amoral nature. Even if one disagrees with Fitzgerald’s sociopathy, one can understand why he behaves in the manner he does under the circumstances. This is testament to Hardy’s ability to convey Fitzgerald as a human being. Whether it will be enough for Hardy to win the OSCAR, though, is another matter.

DiCaprio and Hardy are not the only ones nominated for OSCARs for this film. Director Alejandro Iñárritu has been nominated in the Best Director category. No-one will argue if he wins that OSCAR for the second year running, following Birdman. The directing in The Revenant is spectacular. The opening melee is filmed so well, viewers feel part of the skirmish. Similarly, the way the bear attack is shot is so well (and raw) it induces tension into the audience; plus, the way the landscapes and the north American winter are captured, shows their beauty and brutality in equal measure (even if the filming was done in Canada and Argentina).

Glass trekking through the stunning (and unforgiving) terrain in order to make it back to base and get his revenge.

Glass trekking through the stunning (and unforgiving) terrain in order to make it back to base and get his revenge.

Nevertheless, the fact that one spends much of The Revenant admiring the cinematography highlights one of its problems. One, the film is not particularly engaging. It lacks humour and a character to root for (or against). Two, at 156 minutes, it is a long movie. Maybe that is the film’s point: to make audiences feel as if they are trekking across the endless wilderness with Glass/DiCaprio. If so, it succeeds. But the movie also makes for tedious and repetitive viewing.

Over-all, The Revenant is a masterfully-designed examination of endurance. It may not be the most enjoyable film to sit through. Yet, the acting, the directing and the cinematography are outstanding and worth the watch in and of themselves. They give one a true appreciation for how tough it must be to survive the harshest of conditions, and hints at the types of characters required to survive them. Seeing actors/actresses go through such conditions and suffering is what sways OSCAR judges into handing out the much-coveted award. Leonardo DiCaprio: you have suffered; you have earned your OSCAR.

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Review – Ex Machina (15) [2015]

Ex Machina - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alex Garland

Writer:

  • Alex Garland – 28 days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Halo

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Geoff Barrow
  • Ben Salisbury

For decades, mankind has had a continuing urge to create and enhance artificial intelligence (AI). This has been reflected and taken to all kinds of extremes and dangers in science fiction films, such as the Terminator franchise, A.I., i,RobotHer and Transcendence. Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, smartly deals with the issue of AI again and the possible consequences of it.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Ex Machina is about a programmer called Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins a competition at work to go to a remote facility to be part of an experiment. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the man behind the experiment, wants Caleb to find out if his human-looking robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander), can pass the Turing Test. But neither the experiment nor Nathan is what they seem.

Ex Machina is an interesting and stylish movie. Alex Garland successfully contrasts the beautiful and open nature of a remote location, with the claustrophobic feel of being based there. This creates a natural tension that never truly leaves viewers. It might be allayed for parts of the film, but at the slightest change in circumstance, this tension (re-)tightens one’s muscles, reminding viewers of how terrifying remote locations can be.

In addition to this natural terror, Garland, who has written a superb script, tackles some thought-provoking (and disquieting) topics concerning AI, to augment one’s terrors. Some of the topics have already been done with varying levels of success in Transcendence and Her which dealt with the (disturbing) issues of consciousness within AI and having a relationship with AI, respectively. But Ex Machina arguably takes these issues to higher (and more alarming) levels by blurring the lines between people and machines; notably, by giving AI robots sexual desires and the capability to act on and enjoy them.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Ostensibly, the issue of sexual desire within an AI robot may seem far-fetched and ludicrous. But watch the documentary series Through The Wormhole, plus appreciate the intelligent ways that modern technology can respond to requests, and it might dawn on audiences that what we see in Ex Machina is not so far-fetched or ridiculous and that the lines between people and machines is genuinely being distorted. Bearing all this in mind, Ex Machina enables audiences to believe in this distortion because of Alicia Vikander’s astonishing performance as the AI robot, Ava. Ava’s (arousing) physique and general movements are robot-like. But her facial features and her observational and intellectual sharpness are so human-like that one almost forgets they’re watching an AI robot.

Yes, it helps that Ava/Vikander is an attractive woman and that the special effects on her are outstanding. Equally, though, it helps that Caleb and Nathan, played well by Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, respectively, buy into Ava’s supposed realness and respond to her (human?) personality in differing but very human ways. Indeed, their responses say something about their personalities. Yet, while audiences learn about Caleb’s background and why he is the way he is, the same cannot be said for Nathan. This is unfortunate as there is undoubtedly more to Nathan than he lets on; his brooding face, alone, tells us that.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

However, the lack of information given about Nathan is not the only element of Ex Machina’s plot that weakens it. The film is slow-paced; so much so, that for much of the movie one may wonder where the film is going. Moreover, the ending leaves itself open to scrutiny, not to mention out of kilter and jarring to the rest of the film. Nevertheless, one should not stress too much on the movie’s faults because so much of it is impressive.

Over-all, Ex Machina is an intriguing, weird, and noteworthy film. The movie is slow and the ending is questionable, but all the same Alex Garland has made a striking piece of work in his directorial debut. He deals perceptively and philosophically with important issues regarding AI. These are extremely pertinent considering mankind’s disconcerting hunger to further enhance AI. For heaven knows that these issues will not be isolated to the realms of science fiction films for much longer as it is likely that the world’s first Ava will be created in the not-too-distant future.

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