Screen Themes — The Revenant vs The Academy Awards

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As awards season kicks into gear and celebrities work out the best way to pat themselves on the back, entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at The Revenant and ponders Leonardo DiCaprio’s chances of finally winning an Oscar.

The Revenant directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu

Let’s get something straight — The Revenant is not a happy film. It is not a feel-good film, or a triumph of the human spirit or any of that crap. This is a film about struggle, about bloody revenge, about the indomitable will of man against nature and the dehumanizing effects of isolation. It is also the film that should finally win Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar.

After the success of the critically acclaimed Birdman, director Alejandro Innaritu proves that he is one of the best cinematic craftsmen working today. Managing to hold rapt attention over the 156 minute running time, Innaritu juxtaposes beautiful stark landscapes with sickening violence, building to emotional crescendos with minimal dialogue.

Innaritu also draws exceptional performances from his supporting cast, with Tom Hardy digging deep into his seemingly inexhaustible bag of incomprehensible accents, grumbling and muttering through his performance as the traitorous John Fitzgerald. You don’t so much understand what Fitzgerald is saying, more feel the force of his rage, but once again Hardy is spellbinding.

Fresh from his role in the highest grossing film in history, Domnhall Gleeson gives a powerful performance as noble expedition leader Captain Henry, and young actor Will Poulter handles his role as bullied naïf Bridger well, particularly considering most of his scenes are played against a raging Tom Hardy.  

While the supporting cast is fantastic, this movie lives or dies on the performance of the leading man, and it’s safe to say that DiCaprio puts in one of the performances of his career. Betrayed, gravely injured and left for dead, trapper Hugh Glass crawls, swims and stumbles relentlessly towards his foe, the aforementioned John Fitzgerald.

In an almost dialogue-free performance, Leo expresses heart-rending emotion through guttural grunts and growing exhaustion by his tortured breathing. Against a backdrop of near-perfect silence, Glass’ ragged breathing punctuates the movie, becoming harsher and more labored as he approaches his goal.

Remarkably contemplative at times, the action in The Revenant is surprising and visceral.  The opening scene raid by a party of native Americans intent on depriving the trappers of their furs is absolutely terrifying, as is the much discussed bear attack that results in the worst of Glass’ injuries. I have no idea how this sequence was shot, as it looks remarkably like an A-list actor being mauled by an actual bear, but I’m sure Leo wouldn’t go that far to win an Oscar….

Or would he?

DiCaprio and the Eternal Struggle to Win an Oscar

Most people would agree that Leonardo Di Caprio is a good actor, maybe one of the best of his generation. From his start as a child actor on Growing Pains through early films like The Basketball Diaries and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, many saw a spark in the young actor, not least legendary director Martin Scorsese.

After casting him in Gangs of New York against a scenery-chewing Daniel Day Lewis, Scorsese went on to hire Leo for a run of films including The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio was nominated for Oscars for both The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street, but lost out to the stunt casting of Jamie Foxx in Ray and the weight loss = Oscar approach of Matthew McConaughey, who was actually pretty great in Dallas Buyers Club.

Despite reliable box-office performance and frequent critical acclaim, Leo’s struggle to win an Academy Award has become something of a running gag on the internet, inspiring a host of memes like these;

Apart from the Cuba Gooding Jr level aberration of Jamie Foxx, Leo has lost to worthy opponents, including the late-blooming McConaughey, a career best Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin in Last King of Scotland, and Tommy Lee Jones for The Fuguitive, which was up against Leo’s amazing performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

So who’s he up against this year?

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo. Playing the 1940’s superstar screenwriter blacklisted for his Communist leanings, the former Walter White is a strong contender based on one fact – Hollywood loves films about itself. Odds — 5/1

Michael B Jordan in Creed. Unfortunately, if anyone is going to win an Oscar for Creed, it’s going to be sentimental favourite Sylvester Stallone. Also loses some industry credibility for also starring in the stinker Fantastic Four, although not many critics saw that one. Odds — 7/1

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs. While almost certainly better than Ashton Kutcher’s performance as the tech innovator, this probably isn’t the year for Fassbender. Odds — 15/1

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. Redmayne is the dark horse here, in that he is well known to Oscar voters (having won last year for The Theory of Everything) and is starring in the one film that looks like Oscar-bait, The Danish Girl. Addressing the hot-button issue of gender transformation, this seems like the ‘liberal’ choice vs the revenge driven character of Hugh Glass. Odds — 4/1

Having already added a Golden Globe to his awards shelf, and possessing a career worthy of a Denzel/Training Day lifetime achievement/sympathy Oscar, DiCaprio seems like the current favourite to walk out with the Best Actor prize. Odds — 2/1

But who the hell knows, man? I mean seriously, Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction for Best Picture…

Did you enjoy what you just read? Well, John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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