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The Revenant • Youth

January 7, 2016

The Revenant (***) R

Director Alejandro Inarritu, coasting on the success of the 2014 critical darling Birdman, has followed up that film with The Revenant and it’s certainly a worthy successor to his last effort. The Revenant is hardly what one would call a crowd pleaser but, for a certain segment of the audience, the film will most certainly deliver the goods. It’s the kind of film that delivers a cinematic gut punch in the most visceral way imaginable and how one responds to that sort of thing will ultimately determine their level of enjoyment.

It is said that The Revenant is based on true events and who am I to argue with that? Still, it’s pretty evident that Inarritu has done his part to goose things up from a filmmaking standpoint leaving one to wonder where exactly the truth begins and ends in terms of relating the events of the film’s story. Taking dramatic license is nothing new but I think it’s best to exercise caution when applying the phrase ‘true story’ to the film.

If one were to boil things down to its simplest form in summing up the film’s story, The Revenant, at its core, turns out to be a tale as old as storytelling itself.

Leonardo DiCaprio as historical figure Hugh Glass

It’s basically a revenge film, the kind that poverty row studios used to churn out on a regular basis beginning back in the 50s and moving onward. What separates The Revenant from those films of yesterday are its impeccable production values, production values which serve to elevate the pic to an entirely new level of craftsmanship that was rarely seen in those revenge pics from the past.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in the lead as fur trapper Hugh Glass (a legendary frontiersman who died in 1833) was initially the main thing people were talking about in regards to the film during its pre release buzz. It’s a good performance but if pressed I would have to say that Tom Hardy’s turn as the villainous John Fitzgerald in the picture is every bit as effective as what DiCaprio accomplishes in the picture.

Story wise the film focuses on the trajectory of the Glass character for the most part. Glass, is apparently widowed and doing the best to raise his son, earning his living as a fur trapper. Inarritu wastes no time thrusting us into the story as Glass and his fellow trappers are attacked by Native Americans who obviously aren’t taking kindly to the fur trappers’ use of their land. Glass survives the attack, only to fall prey to a mauling bear whose appearance in the film comes before the thirty-minute mark. This sets off a chain of events in motion that leads to the film’s central theme of revenge. I will reveal no more.

The Revenant is an amazing film to look at but a tough one to ingest. If you’re looking for more lighthearted entertainment at the cineplex this isn’t it. If it’s challenging and difficult cinema you seek, however, this may be just the ticket.

Youth (** ½) R

One of my biggest complaints concerning last year’s award-winning Birdman was that I felt it was a potentially great film, with an interesting story to tell, that succumbed to its director’s pretentious artistic whims. In other words, the director of that film, Alejandro G. Inarritu, simply refused to get out of the way and let the story unfold as it should and insisted upon inserting fantasy elements into the proceedings that did nothing to advance the film’s story and, worse, detracted from the movie’s stronger narrative elements.  I mention all of this because here we are a year later with Youth, another film, albeit from a different filmmaker, that suffers from the same type of indulgences that kept Birdman from-pardon the pun-rising to the top of my year end best list of movies. Youth, is also filled with potential that falls victim to a director who insists upon not just being content with a film’s narrative drive and, instead, feels compelled to show us what a ‘great filmmaker’ he is by adding artier elements that have no place in the film. It’s too bad that all we’re left with is a film filled with great performances and gorgeous scenery but not much else to recommend it.

Michael Caine stars in the film as composer/conductor Fred Ballinger.

Caine & Keitel in Youth

The film opens with an exchange of dialogue between Ballinger and a representative of the royal family whose job it is to convince Ballinger to come out of retirement and conduct one last performance for the Queen of England. Ballinger, who has now taken up what looks like a permanent residence at a spa that caters to the rich and famous, informs the man that he is permanently retired and has no interest in changing that status for anyone, least of all the Queen of England. He has his reasons, which are revealed soon enough.

Ballinger spends most of his days in conversation with his close friend, former film director, Mike Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a man who also seems to be on permanent vacation at the spa. Boyle is ensconced in writing one last film which he feels will be his masterpiece. In the midst of all of this, Ballinger’s daughter (Rachel Weisz) arrives on the scene and, as it turns out, the two of them have a lot of emotional fences that need mending.

Much has been made of Jane Fonda’s turn in the film and she is quite good but there’s not enough of her-her screen time is less than ten minutes-to warrant all the fuss that’s being made of her performance. She’s adequate but has been better utilized in many other films for which she garnered not nearly the amount of acclaim she received in this film.

Youth, as I said, has some interesting points to make about the passage of time, regrets and secrets from the past that refuse to disappear. The trouble is that the fantasy elements take us out of the film’s spell too much of the time. It’s a shame because Youth has so much squandered potential.

Youth is playing in Charlotte. The Revenant opens this week in Hickory and surrounding areas.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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