It is well-documented how much Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t have an Oscar.
Personally, I think that this is all just a big running joke for the people of the Academy, who nominate him and then giggle because they don’t plan to give it to him. Ever. But it’s started to affect his psyche, to the point where maybe he’s not making the best judgement calls on what movies to do. He saw that Iñárritu was doing a movie and was like “let me in on that shit” and then was subjected to straight-up goddamn torture.
I think true auteurism is a fantasy. This is because of the nature of filmmaking. Unlike animation and even video game development, filmmaking suffers the distinct disadvantage of “you always need someone to help.” The more ambition you have, the more help you’re going to need. With a game or an animation, you can technically do it all, you’re just going to be grinding through it over a long period of time. Not so with film. At the very least, you’re going to need one other person to be the other character, unless you’re making some really artsy, trippy, pretentious shit.
Iñárritu, meanwhile, has, like Tarantino, achieved enough success that he seems to be deluded into thinking that he’s the only important person on set and, furthermore, that every idea he comes up with is brilliant. And because of this early success, studios bank on him and crews don’t question him. It’s the most dangerous sort of yes-manning there is. It’s what allowed Phantom Menace to happen.
The most succinct term I can come up with to describe this film is “indulgent.” So much of the stuff in this movie seems like it’s there just so it can be there. The bear mauling scene is noticeably excessive and the majority of it does literally nothing for the plot. The film as a whole is like the Quaaludes scene from The Wolf of Wall Street, except extended into a whole movie. And with bears.
This movie is pretty, sure, but prettiness alone does not a good film make. Personally, I think this gamble by DiCaprio was a failed one, because he got the most boring character in the film. Sure, he did insane shit, and that in itself kind of proves that yes, this man is indeed so desperate for an Oscar that he will pull a literal Luke Skywalker and sleep inside a goddamn animal carcass.
But Leo’s character is Batman. No character flaws or personal weakness. Just sheer determination to get a thing, and get it he does, but does he go through any sort of growth? Not really. There’s not much to it, so there’s only so much acting Leo can do. People were shocked when Tom Hardy got a nomination for this movie but I wasn’t after watching it, because he straight-up pulled a Heath Ledger Dark Knight Joker villain character and it was really good. Wow, everything seems to be coming back to Batman here.
Maybe it’s because I played Undertale before watching this movie, but I found the plot very ugly. It’s not so much the violence, but that the violence is treated as a solution to the character’s problems. But OK, let’s set that aside and treat all that as a mere plot device. Let’s pretend that the “revenge doesn’t solve anything” point ISN’T brought up (SPOILER: it totally is). There’s still no real arc for this character here. He starts out seeking revenge and in the end he gets it and never reaches the abyss or revelation. He spends the whole story being grimly determined and never has a moment of introspection. It’s uninteresting, boring, Point A to Point B.
Much like The Hateful Eight, this film is one that uses its brilliant cinematography as a crutch for its less-than-stellar writing. In fact, I just thought of a better metaphor. The cinematography and Tom Hardy’s performance are the motorized scooter in the grocery store, except the guy isn’t disabled, he’s just fat. And not because of hormones either, this guy is the guy that frat bros and jocks use as the strawman for fat people, the guy who’s fat because he doesn’t exercise and eats nothing but greasy, unhealthy foods. And that fat guy is this film. It’s made more for the creator’s self-gratification than for anyone else. I would not be surprised to find out that Iñárritu, when particularly stressed by silly, insignificant things like production schedules and sane ADs telling him he can’t leave actors in the freezing river until the light is just right, goes home and has a nice 186-minute wank over this movie.
Don’t get me wrong, The Revenant isn’t particularly bad. It’s just not particularly good either. Have a good reason to watch this, because it really is a slog. It takes twice the time it needs to to tell a story, and that is ultimately its biggest failing.
But then again, the Oscars have never really been about what films are really the best films, so maybe they’ll take pity on DiCaprio this year and reward his dedication. At this point, it’s like they’re a frat hazing him and watching him do dumb shit because they know he’ll do it because he really wants to be in their big boys’ club.
Good luck, Leo.
EXTRA SPECIAL INFO: This is the review that Eileen read and then was like "come write on MoviePilot." So I did. Shoutout to her.