Alejandro Inarritu pushed cinematic boundaries in 2014 with “Birdman,” and now he did it again in 2015 with “The Revenant.” Based on the novel by Michael Punke, the movie transports us back to 1823 when frontiersmen and fur trappers traveled the states of Montana and South Dakota, and some of them soon came to discover just how unforgiving nature could be.
Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Hugh Glass, a member of a hunting party searching the land for animal pelts. In a seriously intense scene, Hugh ends up getting mauled by a bear to where he looks to be on the verge of breathing his last breath. One party member, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), becomes insistent on killing Hugh as dragging his seriously wounded body through the elements threatens to slow everyone down and put them all in the crosshairs of Indian tribes looking for revenge.
Fitzgerald ends up trying to smother Hugh to death, but he is interrupted by Hugh’s Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) who calls out for help. But Fitzgerald, overwhelmed by a fear of dying, ends up stabbing Hawk to death and gets the rest of the group to leave Hugh for dead and move on to safer grounds. But despite being so mortally wounded, Hugh rises up and pursues Fitzgerald over thousands of miles as he is driven by an unshakable force known as vengeance.
Inarritu, along with the brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, puts us right in the middle of the action to where we, like the characters, never feel safe for a second. Arrows are flying everywhere and we are in an environment which we are not as familiar with as we would like to think, so the specter of death is always just around the corner.
What’s especially brilliant about “The Revenant” is how it captures both the beauty and unforgiving nature of the wilderness. The vistas captured are incredible to take in but this is also a movie you will want to put on a heavy coat while watching what Inarritu has caught on camera. The weather is so fierce here to where you can’t help but wonder how anyone could possibly survive it. Heck, I cannot help but wonder what watching it would be like in a 4DX theater. Could theater owners bring the temperature to subzero levels and provide audience members with parkas?
With “The Revenant,” DiCaprio finally nabbed the Best Actor Oscar which had eluded him. While I wished he had gotten his first one for his go-for-broke performance in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” it seems very fitting he got it for a performance which has him suffering through the worst a human being could ever be forced to experience. In movies like “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and even “The Basketball Diaries,” he has shown a fearlessness in delving into a character’s dark side or a part of them which can never be easily controlled.
DiCaprio makes you feel every ache, pain and broken bone Hugh experiences in his infinitely long journey. Much has been said about how incredibly difficult it was to make “The Revenant,” and it looks like few had it harder than this actor did. We watch DiCaprio traverse a viciously cold landscape while lacking the ability to talk, and he even resorts to an “Empire Strikes Back” form of survival by keeping warm in a dead animal’s carcass. DiCaprio has never been an actor to fake an emotion or deliver a moment less than truthfully, and he certainly doesn’t do that here.
Also excellent in “The Revenant” is Tom Hardy who, just like he did in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” portrays a character forced to survive in the harshest and most unforgiving of environments. Fitzgerald could have been just another one-dimensional villain in this movie, but Hardy imbues him with a wounded humanity that makes him far more lethal and frightening. Just watch the scene in which Hardy faces down the barrel of a gun and just try to think of another actor who could be as convincing as him in a moment like this.
Tremendous performances, amazing cinematography, the most vicious bear attack in recent cinematic history along with a haunting music score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto help to make “The Revenant” one of the best and most unforgettable movies of 2015. Inarritu remains unwavering in his directorial vision and he has given us a movie that grabs you and never lets you go until the credits start rolling. While some motion pictures get overshadowed by their behind the scenes struggles, this one does not. Of course, this will not stop people from talking about the making of “The Revenant” for years to come.
Oh by the way, this movie is “inspired by true events.” This is much more honest and fitting than saying it is “based on a true story.”
* * * * out of * * * *
WRITER’S NOTE: When this movie was released, some were under the mistaken impression that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character got raped by a bear in one scene. This rumor ended up spreading like a wildfire, but anyone who has seen “The Revenant” can attest this is not what happened at all. DiCaprio gets attacked because he accidentally comes across some bear cubs, and this shows that you never ever mess with the mama bear.
Is it even possible to write a review of Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary “America: Imagine the World Without Her” without seeming the least bit biased? Many who have slammed it have been greeted by comments accusing them of being blinded by President Obama’s “socialist” brainwashing, and those who praise it get accused of watching Fox News too much among other criticisms. Is there any way to view this documentary in an objective manner? Moreover, will anyone allow those who have seen it to review it in an objective manner? Well, I’ll give it a shot, but I can already see a number of comments coming my way which are both good and bad.
“America: Imagine the World Without Her” starts off with D’Souza meditating on what this country would have been like had George Washington been killed on the battlefield, and it is followed by images of institutions like Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial vanishing into dust. From there, he explores the dark history of America and a number of well-known individuals whom he believes have done nothing more than shame America rather than looking at what makes it one of the best countries on Earth.
“America” gets off to a shaky start because, from its trailers, the movie looked to present an alternate reality of what the country would look like if George Washington died early on, but he all but drops this concept and instead goes on a different path. If that was the case, then why did he bring up this scenario if he never intended to explore it? Maybe he came to the conclusion that a number of different things could have happened as a result, and to narrow it down to one would be difficult if not impossible.
Now D’Souza makes it perfectly clear he loves America, and I have no doubt of that. Furthermore, I would never dream of taking his love of America away from him as it has given him much success. Having said that, there is an overabundance of shots throughout of him staring at various monuments like the White House, the Marine Corps War Memorial (a.k.a. the Iwo Jima Memorial) and Mount Rushmore which we see him looking at as if he is desperate to make his love for the United States absolutely clear and without doubt. But after a while it becomes a self-indulgent nuisance to where we want to yell at the screen, “We get it! You love America! Enough already!”
D’Souza then takes an overview of America’s dark history and uses it to criticize a number of people (particularly on the left side of politics) whom he believes have used these historical events to shame the country and make it look like an evil place. From there, his intent is to refute much of what we have been taught about American history and to demonize those he believes have taken away from this country and empowered others who are a threat to it. He does this by using old news footage, historical reenactments with notable figures like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas and interviews with experts who tell D’Souza more or less what he wants to hear.
Regarding the historical reenactments, they come across as very bland and boring and are seriously lacking in any depth. The acting is pedestrian, the staging lacks much in the way of excitement, and the special effects are ridiculously cheap. There’s even a scene where we see Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, sailing towards America, and it looks like someone just put three toy boats in a river and filmed them. You’d figure a documentary produced by Gerald R. Molen, a man who produced many of Steven Spielberg’s movies including “Jurassic Park” and “Minority Report,” would have higher production values to work with, but that’s not the case here.
When it comes to the genocide of American Indians, D’Souza claims much of it was the result of different Indian tribes attacking one another over land. Granted, there is some truth to this as we have seen this conflict portrayed in movies like “Dances with Wolves” and “The Last of the Mohicans,” but this argument carries only so much weight and D’Souza only skims the surface. He gives the audience a lot of graphics you would find in a power point presentation, but it all comes off like a copy of Cliff Notes which might give you just enough information, but not everything you need to hear.
On top of this, D’Souza claims the majority of Indians lost their lives because of diseases. It was at this point I started to get confused as to what D’Souza was trying to get across. Was he saying the Indians were more susceptible to diseases than others? What life has taught me is that diseases do not discriminate like humans do. As a result, what D’Souza ends up implying with this assertion feels not only baseless but completely out of line.
As for how he deals with slavery, I have to give D’Souza some credit because even he admits it was not just a problem in America but in other countries as well. But then he goes into how certain blacks, before slavery was abolished, owned slaves as well, and he brings up the story of C.J. Walker who became known as the first female self-made millionaire in America and of how she made her fortune through a successful line of beauty products for black women. On one hand it’s interesting to learn about Ms. Walker, but I wondered what D’Souza was trying to prove here. Is he saying slavery was nowhere as bad in America as it was in other countries? Looking back, I got the impression he really glossed over the barbaric treatment many slaves received. He also describes the abolition of slavery as being “uniquely western,” but considering how it had its roots in European urban culture and that the Atlantic slave trade came to an end before American slavery did, this is not altogether accurate.
Things in “America” get worse as D’Souza defends capitalism by showing a scene where we see multiple versions of him running a fast food joint and cooking hamburgers. This is a moment where he could have had some fun with his own image, but he ends up taking himself too seriously and comes off as unintentionally goofy. Furthermore, he talks about how ordering a hamburger from his faux restaurant is cheaper than making one at home with the same ingredients. This is a weak argument as I have visited many fast food joints and none of the burgers came close to equaling the price D’Souza was offering for his.
D’Souza even says America’s wealth was created and not stolen and that colonial Manhattan was purchased from the Indians for $700. Considering there is much evidence available on how the Indians, a people never to be mistaken as immigrants, were driven from their lands and killed, I can’t help but wonder if they sold this land by choice or under duress. While I was watching this segment, I was reminded of what comedian Bobcat Goldthwait once said:
“America is one of the finest countries anyone ever stole.”
D’Souza then directs his ire at a number of “leftists” such as Saul Alinsky, Hilary Clinton, Matt Damon, Howard Zinn and President Barack Obama. The way he sees it, they are responsible for exploiting the dark moments of American history and for attempting to rewrite it for their own benefit. It is from there that “America” becomes nothing more than a propaganda piece designed to deliver a lot of fear-mongering to the masses.
Look, I have no problem with Americans criticizing President Obama when it’s within reason, but many of D’Souza’s criticisms feel like they are based on deep seated fears rather than actual facts. When “America” begins, he says the three things he feared would happen under an Obama administration did happen, but those things are still open to debate as President Obama did get elected to a second term.
But D’Souza’s sights are set mostly on Hilary Clinton as he sees her as being subverted in her early years by leftists and socialists who forever corrupted her worldview, and the way he presents Hilary in a series of reenactments reeks of shameless manipulation more than anything else.
Another public figure who gets dragged over hot coals is Saul Alinsky, the legendary community organizer and writer. D’Souza portrays him as the devil in disguise and attempts to use his own words against him. He even goes out of his way to say Alinsky learned many things from Lucifer like strategies for demonization and polarization. In retrospect, the way D’Souza portrays Alinsky makes the community organizer come across as a one-dimensional villain in your typical action flick. I imagine there is more to Alinsky than what we see here, but to tell us more might take away from D’Souza’s overall argument which was pretty weak to begin with.
But perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious moment comes when D’Souza brings up how he was indicted for making illegal political contributions to a 2012 United States Senate campaign. He ended up pleading guilty to this and doesn’t deny that he committed a crime, but it all leads to a staged shot of him sitting in a holding cell with handcuffs on. The way D’Souza sees it, he’s a victim of persecution by the government due to the success of his documentary “2016: Obama’s America.” Now whether or not D’Souza was a victim of selective prosecution was up for debate, but this staged moment proves to be so shameless that it comes across as completely self-serving. Considering he knowingly committed a crime which he plead guilty to, does he really have the right to play the victim card?
Looking back at “America: Imagine the World Without Her,” my reaction to it isn’t all that different from how I react to a Michael Moore documentary. Their movies make me want to do a lot of research into the subject matter they deal with to see how accurate they are to the facts and to see what else I could possibly learn about America in the process. Many accuse Moore of playing loose with the facts, but if that’s true then D’Souza isn’t any different.
D’Souza and his co-director John Sullivan came into “America” with a lot of passion which does come across onscreen, but it is still filled with illogical arguments which don’t carry much weight. While he accuses others of trying to rewrite history, he ends pretty much does the same thing here. The movie is also weighed down by poorly directed reenactments which don’t leave much to the imagination, and D’Souza spends his time onscreen implying things rather than proving them. Seriously, if he were to turn all this in as a term paper, he would have ended up with an F or a D- if he was lucky.
I always thought it was incredibly difficult to make a bad documentary, but D’Souza and Sullivan prove it is possible with “America: Imagine the World Without Her.” In the end, the criticisms this movie receives will matter very little as it has been embraced by the crowd it was made for. But none of this changes the fact this is a poorly made film which has little to show for its arguments, and it exists as nothing more than a boring propaganda piece. D’Souza is free to make the movies he wants to make, but next time he’s got to make arguments which stand up to scrutiny and get a better understanding of American history.