Tag Archives: Domnhall Gleeson

The Revenant (2015)

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I wasn’t as big of a fan of Birdman, last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, as most other people, as sublime an example of filmmaking as it is. Nor was I rooting for its director, Alejandro G Iñárritu, to win Best Director, not because he wasn’t deserving, but because I was rooting for Boyhood‘s Richard Linklater. This year, however, with just a couple of weeks before the Oscars, I’m seriously leaning towards rooting for both the director and his movie, The Revenant, without a doubt one of the most remarkably executed, jaw-droppingly beautiful and suffocatingly intense films of the year.

The film is loosely based on the story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was among a group of military hunters attacked by Native Americans in the wilderness. There is another major event that happens after this which I’m not going to share for the sake of those who haven’t seen the trailer. Yes, it’s in the trailer, but I was one of those people who saw the trailer after the movie and thought it gave away too much, spoiling a lot of big plot points.

Anyway, The Revenant is as harrowing of a movie experience as you can imagine. Centred around themes of survival, revenge and redemption, the film is highlighted by its brutal, visceral violence, juxtaposed against the harsh and unforgiving, but undeniably majestic beauty of the Lousiana Purchase landscape.

I was blown away. Part of it is Iñárritu’s spectacular visual style, filled with long takes and sweeping, constantly moving shots. The scenes are so fluid, so perfectly choreographed, the camera angles so unique — it’s the type of thing I thought was only possible in animation or video games, never in live-action feature films. I’m sure there are plenty of special effects, but it’s all done so seamlessly that the visual experience comes across as terrifyingly real. With the possible exception of his friend and fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, I don’t think anyone else could have done it with as much flair as Iñárritu.

Despite a 156-minute running time, which may be too long for some, there is never a dull moment. The film is always moving along, the story always progressing. As a fetishist for watching personal hardships in the wild (one of my favourite movies is Into the Wild, and I also really liked Reese Witherspoon’s Wild from a year ago), I loved the torturous solitary survival scenes. I don’t exactly know why — maybe it’s the man vs wild dynamic or the exhilaration from seeing the ultimate will to survive, or perhaps I just have problems.

The quieter moments have the effect of amping up the several major action set pieces in the film, which are among the most amazing I’ve seen this year alongside Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything is presumably choreographed but looks and feels raw and realistic, making the experience so much more tense than the modern CGI-dominated superhero action we’re accustomed to these days.

I read about the horror stories in making this film, how nearly everything was shot in natural light, an astounding feat in itself. I’m sure it was as freezing as it looked on screen, and Leo, who just picked up the Golden Globe for Best Actor, absolutely deserves his first Oscar for his portrayal of Glass. With not much dialogue to deliver, it’s a much more subtle performance than what he delivered in The Wolf of Wall Street, but boy did he go through hell to get the job done. His dedication and professionalism notwithstanding the success he has already achieved is impressive.

Likewise, kudos to the rest of the super cast, which includes Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson. Hardy, in particular, gives a marvellous performance that’s much more nuanced than it would have been in lesser hands, and I’m pretty certain an Oscar nomination is heading his way (though I’d still say Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies is the favourite.

If there is something to nitpick, it would probably be that it is sometimes a little difficult to decipher what some of the characters are saying because of the way they spoke back then, coupled with the mumbling and the twang. That said, this is the type of film you can watch and figure out without understanding a single word of the dialogue.

When all the elements are put together, it’s hard for me to deny that The Revenant is anything but a modern masterpiece. The combination of Iñárritu’s visual style, strong script and masterful pacing, combined with the simple yet intense plot and fabulous performances, results in a unique journey that ranks right at the top of my 2015 cinematic experiences.

5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Unbroken (2014)

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Angelina Jolie has been tipped as a filmmaker to watch for the future, so I was naturally drawn to her third and latest directorial effort, Unbroken, a biopic about the remarkable life of US Olympian and WWII prisoner of war Louis Zamperini.

To be frank, I was a little disappointed with Unbroken given its subject and celebrated director and screenwriting team (that includes one of my faves, the Coen Brothers). It’s solid, there is no denying that, though I don’t think the film did very much in elevating Zamperini’s inspirational life significantly above what one would have expected simply from reading a basic bio of his experiences. While it depicts Zamperini as an amazing individual, Unbroken fails to distinguish itself from all of the other POW stories.

Jolie begins with a typical in media res approach that introduced Zamperini as a member of a US bomber squad on a mission against the Japanese-occupied Island of Nauru in 1943. As expected, the film reverts to flashback mode shortly after, showing Zamperini’s childhood in California as a troubled kid. From there, Jolie adopts a surprisingly linear, conventional narrative, focusing on Zamperini’s Olympic career before moving onto his role in WWII.

Zamperini is indeed worthy of respect for his astounding resiliency and will to survive, but the film focuses too much on this one aspect of his personality. The narrative is pretty much just him overcoming one hardship after another. He’s like a human version of that annoying Chumbawamba song — he gets knocked down but he gets up again, and again and again and again. Jolie doesn’t do much to mix things up other than emphasise the sadistic nature of his Japanese captors (in particular a one-dimensional corporal known as “Bird” played by Japanese recording artist Miyavi) and play up Zamperini’s glorious moments of triumph.

The problem, I think, is that Jolie was too in awe of her subject, whom she has met and was still alive during filming. As a result, the film became essentially a work of hero worship that never really managed to explore his character like it should have. It’s strange, but even though it is a biopic I still don’t feel like I really got to know Zamperini as a person other than that he he managed to live through a lot of terrible things. I can only imagine how much edgier and how much more depth the film would have had had Jolie been able to maintain a bit of distance from her protagonist.

Failing to meet expectations aside, Unbroken is a well-intentioned effort and a very watchable film. Jolie’s direction is not flashy, though she infuses her images — some handsome, others bleak — with passion and control. Shades of Clint Eastwood, perhaps? And the story is undoubtedly inspirational because its true; the performance of Jack O’Connell as Zamperini is quite good, and the supporting cast featuring the likes of Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund and Jai Courtney all fill out their respective roles impressively. The film has moments I really liked and found emotionally rewarding, but also others (including the final climax) that were heavy-handed and too obviously geared towards sentimentality. On the whole, I still think it’s a film worth watching because Zamperini’s story is such an extraordinary one, though it’s a shame Jolie could not have wielded her Malificent magic to turn it into something special.

3.5 stars out of 5