The Revenant Review

The Revenant has been on my list of to-watch films since January of 2015. It was promised in December, but we’ve had to wait a couple extra weeks for it. And amid several Oscar nominations (and a possible Best Actor win for its main star), let see if the hype is lived up to.

The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck and is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The film follows Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) in the early 19th Century, who after a bear attack is left for dead. He comes back to get his revenge on those who left him behind.

Iñárritu as a director has a very odd camera style. Instead of the usual editing, cutting between multiple cameras, Iñárritu usually has long tracking shots of his actors. We saw a hyper version of it in his last film, Birdman and here it is exactly the same. The beautiful long shots of the Native American attack that opens the film, or the bear attack that puts the films story in motion are incredible, and change the old question of “How did they film that?” to “How did they film that and have nobody get hurt?” The attacks are blood soaked, with gunfire going off, people being brought down by a flurry of arrows or being thrown from their horse. And the camera keeps going…and going…and going, not cutting for sometimes ten to fifteen minutes at a time.

While DiCaprio has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for The Revenant (with many saying that this will be his winning year), I can’t agree. Sure, if Best Actor was changed to the award for Mouth Breathing and Exertion Noises then Leo would win hands down, but he doesn’t really perform in the film. He just gets the crap beaten out of him over and over again. Towards the end of the film I thought Iñárritu just hates his protagonist, the amount of pain and danger he puts him through is astronomical. Tom Hardy fairs better as Fitzgerald, but the signature Hardy Mumble (seen in The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless) does appear, meaning you have to strain your ears to understand him. The best of the cast is Domhnall Gleeson as Captain Henry, the leader of Glass and Fitzgerald’s group, who in the final third get’s to show some menace and anger, showing what a broad actor Gleeson is.

The film’s story (based on true events, like nearly every single film in the cinema is that isn’t a Marvel property) is pretty simple; man gets revenge on those who wronged him. Iñárritu has a writing credit on the film, and he’s managed to stretch the story to 156 minutes and across three countries (Canada, USA and Argentina were all used for filming) which is way too long for a film like this. While it’s nice to see the snowy plains (The Revenant is definitely going for the “Travel Cinema” crowd), once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. But Iñárritu keeps coming back to them, adding nothing to the story and making the audience bored.

The soundtrack, created by Ryuichi Sakamoto, is very atmospheric and brooding, but it only gets used for mere seconds at a time. There are hardly any moments in the film where the soundtrack plays for a substantial amount, which is rather annoying given how good it is. Instead, we are usually left with the sounds of nature and it’s in some of these moments that the films sound design shines. The wind howls, the trees groan under the pressure and the leaves rustle, it all adding up to create a sense of isolation. Like I said in my Alois Nebel review, films like this create the sense of being truly alone, with nature all around you.

In conclusion, The Revenant is a mixed bag. While the cinematography and setting are great, the lack of characterisation, story arc and bloated run time hurt an otherwise fine film.

Score: 7/10 Sadly not as good as it I perceived it to be.

Brooklyn Review

The nominations of the British Independent Film Awards came out recently, with many films I’ve already covered like Macbeth, Ex Machina and Amy being nominated in several different categories. One film that kept appearing was called Brooklyn, and as it happens, today was its opening day in cinemas. Does it deserve it’s nominations, let alone the awards?

Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters and is directed by John Crowley. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn follows Irish immigrant Eilis (Ronan) as she must pick between two potential lives and suitors, one in New York and one in Wexford, Ireland.

One of the factors that drew me into watching Brooklyn was that the screenplay is written by Nick Hornby. Hornby is the famed writer behind film hits such as High Fidelity and About a Boy, making him one of the more well known screenwriters today. And just like the two films I mentioned, Brooklyn has a terrific script. The conversations between the several characters are a joy to listen to (and not only because of those excellent Irish brogues). As Eilis emigrates to the USA, the film is full of conversations on being homesick and the struggles of trying to fit in, all of which are conveyed excellently by Ronan. Hornby manages to find many great snapshots of a life outside of your home country in Brooklyn, as well as several charming moments of silence between our leading lady and her suitors, with Ronan showing the strings of anxiety and excitement tugging below the surface. And like many good writers, Hornby keeps the audience on their toes to the very end, giving us two favourable suitors that Eilis would be happy with, but ultimately has to break one of their hearts.

Saoirse Ronan has been is several hit films before, such as Atonement and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but here as Eilis she shows off her wide range of acting abilities. In the beginning when she first goes to America she is worried and alone, but as she starts to settle in she becomes a much more upbeat and carefree. Her two suitors, played by Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are both very good, giving us two characters that Eliis would have a hard time deciding to choose between. Gleeson, while his character is still rather reserved, thankfully manages to step far enough out of the “socially awkward” role that he had been stuck in for a large portion of his earlier film roles. Two small roles for Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters are fun little distractions, with Broadbent being a priest who helps Eilis settle in and Walters being a nosey, old landlady.

My only real problem with the film is that is it does feel a tiny bit overlong. With Eilis going back and forth between her suitors in letters and in person, there are some scenes that feel quite redundant. This might be due to the fact that we have to watch Eilis fall in love twice within the run time of the film so scenes might start to have an odd sense of repeating themselves. But apart from this one small nitpick, there really isn’t much else wrong with the film.

Hearing the summary for Brooklyn‘s story, or watching the trailer could have easily turned off a few potential viewers. It sounds too sweet and sugary, another bloody Nicolas Sparks-style adaptation, despite no-one either wanting or asking for it. But, mostly down to Saoirse Ronan’s outstanding acting ability, managing to look calm and sensible on the outside but able to convey to the audience her insecurities and fears, Brooklyn elevates what could have been a schlocky sentimental period piece to a much higher standard. And, if you’re anything like the audience in the viewing I was in, you’ll be bawling your eyes out by the end credits.

Score: 9/10 Heartfelt, emotional and compelling, a serious contender for the Awards season.

Ex Machina Review

Ex Machina marks Alex Garland’s first foray into directing, making the film his first “proper” auteur piece. And while the film’s exploration into the near-future of artificial intelligence is dark and unnerving (in that signature Garland way), it is unfortunate that it isn’t as good as the other films in the genre.

Ex Machina (coming from the Latin phrase Deus Ex Machina, meaning “God From The Machine”) is about a young IT intern named Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who after winning a prize from his company gets to spend a week with its reclusive owner Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). It is during this week that Nathan shows off his newest invention to Caleb, an almost fully functioning AI called Ava (played by Alicia Vikander), who starts to interact with Caleb.

First off, I like Alex Garland. Whether it’s The Beach, 28 Days Later or even Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, the man knows how to write a compelling story, and that is one of Ex Machina’s strongest points. The dialogue spoken between our three leads (there are other characters but most of the film is spent within these three company) has been planned out methodically, with many references to science, art, religion and philosophy, with scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer and his infamous “I have become death” quote from the Bhavagad Gita being used or Nathan’s fascination with Jackson Pollock’s creative process. But fundamentally, that is also Ex Machina’s problem. It feels like a grab-bag of many ideas that it doesn’t get to carve out its own ideas on the genre, instead using other people and themes to parallel the characters in the film.

On to a more positive note, the acting in the film is top-notch, with Alicia Vikander performing a standout role as Ava. Her time spent as a ballet dancer can be seen throughout her movement in the film, to the point where it looks like she almost glides across the modernist sets. Oscar Isaac is also worthy of mention as Nathan, who seems to be reprising his role from The Two Faces of January, of a man who is devilishly charming yet there is something brewing under the surface. Domhnall Gleeson meanwhile, seems to be getting type casted in the quiet role again. He’s a perfectly fine actor in Ex Machina, but after About Time, Calvary and his stint in Black Mirror he does seem to be filling the role of a shy, socially awkward character, and it would be nice to see him branch out into a different role.

The film does present some of Garland’s signature unnerving moments, one scene that springs to mind is a montage when Caleb finally realises what Nathan is actually up to in his research facility and why he was integral to the creation of Ava, ending with a freeze frame of a security camera which shows a picture that is quite unsettling (no spoilers). Garland does these scenes well and they fit with the overall tone of the film, with the ending suitably Garland-esque, which stays with you long after the film has ended, leaving you pondering the aspects that were left hanging.

Overall, Ex Machina wants to be a film about big ideas, but comes off as not being as smart as it thinks it is. With the aforementioned Jackson Pollock painting and conversation about it (again no spoilers) becoming a recurring motif, or the fact that there are seven “sessions” of Ava coming to life (I see what you did there with the number Garland), it feels like there was something bigger waiting in the wings but then was never actually revealed.

This does however; signal the start of a trend in films, with Big Hero 6 before it and Chappie coming in March, 2015 seems to be the year of the Artificial Intelligence.

Score: 7/10, Interesting and laced with meaning, but feels like there is something lacking.