Saturday, September 17, 2016

Grapples with Bears

SPOILER ALERTS - Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for DiCaprio's Oscar win and all that, but... I guess I'm still kind of a stickler for realism in my fantasy stories.  What you've probably heard about 2015's The Revenant is that it's about a guy who gets attacked by a bear.  So, you might be surprised to find that there's a little before, and a lot after, that particular incident.
Because it makes for a good storyline, Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and as the web will tell you, is based on a real guy who lived in the 1820s) is a man caught between worlds.  He is a white man with a half-Pawnee son.  He speaks Pawnee and is a gifted navigator, and some of the members of the expedition that he's with value him quite highly.  He's also pretty good at surviving brutal attacks by Native American warriors, even if it is just a plot device.
So the guy knows quite a lot.  Unfortunately, he's no biologist, and he doesn't know a lot about bears.  One day, when he's by himself in the woods, he sees two bear cubs ambling along.  A few seconds later, he spots the mama bear.  The mama bear charges, and then it's the Passion of the Glass for about five minutes.  Those kind of life lessons are always the worst: the kind that are fatal the first time you get them wrong.
Now, spoiler alert: DiCaprio survives his first bout with the bear, if only barely.  But bear in mind... good Lord.  Sorry, I was daydreaming, thinking of Three Loan WolvesAnyway, hardly able to move, DiCaprio goes for his one-shot rifle and waits for the mama bear to pass by again.  He takes a shot when it gets up real close.  The humongous bear is wounded, but strong enough to start a second semi-rape of DiCaprio.  They both eventually roll down a nearby hill.  I thought those only existed in cartoons.
I'm reminded of what happened to Batman in 2012's much anticipated The Dark Knight Returns.  His back gets broken by Bane (played by Tom Hardy) and is forced to recover halfway around in the world in the most deeply psychologically scarring prison in the history of the movies... or so the filmmakers thought.  Now, given the primitive state of medicine in the 1820s, and the fact that your average bear attack even today is usually fatal, Glass's slow, cinematic road to recovery seems just a teeny weeny bit implausible.
As with many a film before it, the narrative flow of The Revenant is interrupted by some of the most gorgeous vistas you've ever seen.  Now, I hate to be the first to go to war over which film has the most gorgeous vistas, but it's coming someday, I'm sure.  That'll be the next internet billionaire for ya.  But I seem to recall that it was Von Ellstein who said in 1952's The Bad and the Beautiful that a movie with all climaxes is like a necklace without a string.  At some point, possibly a couple, Iñárritu kinda drifts in and out of narrative focus, and things get a teeny weeny bit boring.  Also, why does the whole movie look like it was shot with a GoPro camera whenever there are people around?  Can a brutha get just one telephoto shot?  Just one?  You don't have to go full Tony Scott or anything, just one.
I must've been bored with the whole movie, because I guessed a few of the plot points.  SPOILER ALERT: one, that DiCaprio's character, who would be dead in any other movie, on account of being mauled by AN ANGRY MAMA BEAR, is going to recover and track down the killer of his son (Tom Hardy), thereby getting some sweet, sweet revenge.  Two, that Tom Hardy's character's interest in the upstairs safe was no idle fancy.  Three, when DiCaprio and Captain Henry split up to look for Fitzgerald... must be one of the decidedly un-literary cousins or something... that Henry would find him first and get killed.
Before that big fight scene at the end, there was one other incredible feat of physicality I want to point out.  After his sauna, Glass runs afoul of ... I think they were Arikara warriors.  I will give a shout out to the storytellers on this one.  Always nice to give a shout out to one of the tribes that doesn't usually get one... I'm assumpting, I don't know for a fact.  Anyway, the bow and arrow skills of these warriors are, as Sundance might observe, "very good."  But they can't hit DiCaprio, of course.  You know, privilege of the movie's hero and what not.  So DiCaprio's only means of escape is the horse he found, and he can outrun any equestrian on this side of the planet.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, there's a hundred foot cliff nearby, and Glass's horse makes the ultimate sacrifice, and leaps clean off the cliff.
The horse is dead, of course, but a tall tree slows down DiCaprio's fall a little bit.  Next scene: DiCaprio's lying face down in the thick snow.  Now... I wanna give a shout out to my friend who saw that and said "What is this, a cartoon?"  Yes it is.  It is a cartoon.  A lesser film would've had DiCaprio hanging in the tree or something like that, but not The Revenant, people.  Gotta be lying face down in the snow.  Better visual impact.  And besides, there's a long standing tradition in the movies of people surviving falls from great heights that would kill us mere mortals... don't see an IMDb plot keyword for that just yet.
Which brings us to that big final fight scene.  Don't worry, it's sufficiently violent to slake your bloodlust.  Personally, I blame Miami Blues (1990) for all this.  In that movie, Alec Baldwin's character, long story short, gets several of his fingers cut off with one flick of a machete.  And ever since then, violence in the movies has gotten more, um... creative, let's say.  No more mere gunshots to cover up with your hand, people.  And CGI's made it all the worse.
In the instant case, DiCaprio gets a couple of Tom Hardy's fingers.  Hardy bites off one of DiCaprio's ears, and gives him a damn near fatal stab in the love handles.  But for those of you hankering for a more traditional fight move, never fear.  Watch as they both struggle to put the knife right square in the middle of Tom Hardy's gut.  Now we're talking!
I'll leave aside for now that, despite everything, DiCaprio still can't deliver the final death blow to his nemesis.  Fortunately, there's a group of Native Americans just downstream from the two of them willing to do DiCaprio's dirty work for him.  You know, movie hero stuff.  Sure, he's going to take a couple stabs at Hardy to slow him down and all, but for God's sake!  He's not a killer!

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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