The Savage Wilderness Has Nothing On The Savage Wildness Of Leo DiCaprio

9 January 2016 | 10:41 am | Anthony Carew

"A film whose visual brilliance drags its tale of masculine mettle and virtuous revenge to places truly memorable."


In one of the greatest internet Chinese whispers this side of Marilyn-Manson-is-Paul-Pfeiffer, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s sixth film, The Revenant, was rumoured to find Leonardo DiCaprio being raped by a bear. But, lo and behold: something you read on the internet wasn’t true (and/or was just a recycled bit from The Onion). Instead, come the end of the first act of this 160-minute wilderness-survival epic, Leo is mauled by a bear: clawed, gouged, bitten and tossed across a harrowing, breathless sequence that, like so much herein, is a technical marvel. In Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog — cinema’s great macho adventurer — listened to the audio recording of Timothy Treadwell being killed by bears so the world wouldn’t have to. But, for those who’ve wondered how it might’ve gone down, do Iñárritu and his effects team have a scene — and a macho adventure — for you.

It’s no man’s idea of Bear Porn, but for those used to, um, Bear Porn, all the bushy beards, homoerotic manliness, primal grunting, flying bodily fluids, and symbolic phallic-objects/penetrations of The Revenant may come (cum?) close. At core — based ‘in part’ on a folkloric-true-tale novel by Michael Punke, some dude who’s now a WTO stooge — the story is a tale of single-minded, simple-minded revenge. Leo’s the scout for a troop of fur-trappers in the wilds of frontier America in 1823. But after his bear-mauling, the man entreated with his survival (Dastardly Tom Hardy, adding another entry to the Library Of Tom Hardy’s Indecipherable Accents) instead cuts down Leo’s son (Forrest Goodluck) in cold blood, and tosses our hero in a shallow-grave. Half-buried and left for dead, LDC claws back from the brink of death, and painstakingly travels 200 miles overland to enact his revenge.

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Befitting a macho survival epic, there’s moments of life-saving inventiveness to rival anything Matt Damon does in The Martian. There’s backwoods surgery with needle and yarn. Self-cauterising a gaping neck-wound with gun-powder and kindling. And, memorably, there’s gutting a dead horse and climbing inside the cavity of its corpse, curling up for a night’s sleep safe from the frigid blizzard bearing down (so to speak) upon thee. That comes after Leo’s rode the same horse off a cliff and into a pine tree. Which comes after he’s escaped down-river by being pummelled through white-water rapids. Which comes after an opening escape from a raid of the fur-trappers by bellicose local Ree natives. They’re out to both rob the Rocky Mountain Fur Company of their pelts and trying, at the behest of their grave chief (Duane Howard), to retrieve the stolen daughter (Melaw Nakehk’o) who’s one of the two female characters The Revenant has at its edges.

The other is — with shades of Christopher Nolan — Leo’s very own dead wife (Grace Dove), a Pawnee dreamgirl who appears in diaphanous flashbacks, sunkissed memories, near-death visions, and symbolist nightmares. Those flashbacks also show us another situation in which DiCaprio refused to die: in which he fights off a Yankee soldier who would’ve otherwise killed his half-caste son.

Leo is, in short, that familiar Hero Who Refuses To Die; albeit one who, rather than delivering suave one-liners, instead gurns, grunts, grimaces, growls, spits, vomits, crawls, and drags his barely-alive body across the frigid landscape. To survive in these wilds, he must become an animal himself. And, soon enough, Leo essentially becomes a bear: wearing an entire pelt, head and paws dangling down below his waist; biting fresh fish he’s grabbed from a river in half, blood trickling down his beard; tearing at the bloodied carcass of a freshly-slain buffalo. Here, the savage wilderness has nothing on the savage wildness of man; its survival-horror viscera (a character is credited as Dave Stomach Wound) serving, dutifully enough, as frontier parable.

The Revenant, in many ways, scans as a grim feat of endurance, for both filmmakers and viewers. Save for the fact that it’s an utterly sublime piece of visual cinema. Riding high on the success of Birdman, Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki reunite, and their visual work is stunning. Shooting on location in North America and Argentina, they inhabit the inhospitable terrain; the guttural, animalistic nature of its hero’s journey mirroring the physicality felt in the landscape, in snowfall and treetop, river and dirt.

In the middle of any of the film’s many signature set-pieces — the bear mauling, the downriver escape, the buffalo stampede — the visual wonder is so dynamic, so profound, so strong, that you feel as if you’re watching a new classic. In particular, the opening battle-in-the-shallows between the fur-trappers and the Ree is a marvel of camerawork and choreography, symbolically tracking the killer-gets-killed back-and-forth with a balletic grace that feels like Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach landing by way of Terrence Malick’s The New World. It’s an unforgettable beginning to a film whose visual brilliance drags its tale of masculine mettle and virtuous revenge to places truly memorable.


Despite coming from director Adam McKay — the Will Ferrell off-sider whose prior cinematic CV consists of the Anchorman movies, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys The Big Short has somehow been earmarked as an Oscar-season contender. Whilst it boasts a topical theme (the housing bubble crisis and attendant financial collapse) and a top-line cast (Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt), it seems unlikely that The Big Short will be taken so seriously. Because, like, seriously, have you seen its fucking wigs?

Bale? His wig looks as if it was lowered atop his head by a skill-tester claw. Carell? His flowing blond locks look like they’ve been photoshopped on, and when the wind blows you start to panic. Gosling? His black brillo looks like its still-wet colour is about to start trickling down his fake-tan’d face. Pitt? Well, his hairpiece looks the most hair-like, but has the unintended (or possibly intended?) effect of making him look like Ken Burns. If anyone, when watching The Big Short, actually believes these wigs to be real hair, well, can I interest you in a Bespoke Tranche Opportunity?

The sketch-comedy quality of the wigs isn’t entirely out-of-place, though. Based on Michael Lewis’s non-fiction chronicle of the credit default swap market, McKay has turned financial malfeasance, greed, and fraud into a comedy. Its chief, recurring device is breaking down the fourth wall: Gosling narrating the film direct to the audience with a wink; characters turning to camera and addressing discrepancies between the truth and the adaptation; and a host of celebrities — Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez — brought on board to break down complex economic transactions in simple language or cutesy metaphor.

There’s nothing essentially wrong with this approach: the absurdity of the bad-debt business lends itself to comedy; and, in turn, there’s incisive laughs to be had in depicting Melissa Leo’s Dow Jones regulator as essentially blind, or having Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen play a couple of boo-yah! mortgage broker broze who barely understand their own racket. There’s less comedy in the main cast, a boy’s club whose key characters conspicuously leave out Meredith Whitney, who predicted the financial collapse and was a prominent figure in Lewis’s book. Bale plays an Aspergersy stock savant; Pitt a retired, treechanged broker lured back in for one last score; Gosling does reptilian, creepy; Carell — again, after Freeheld — chews scenery and yells away as Loud Jew.

Carell eventually becomes the film’s voice-of-conscience, and its moral crusader, decrying the corruption he sees everywhere, the horrors of the self-made catastrophe inflicted upon the world. His righteous ire gives some bite to the film’s parade of gags, but, with McKay at the helm — and those wigs on those celebrity heads — The Big Short rarely feels like a noble crusade. The Wall Street bail-out is the greatest tragedy of the 21st-century, but, here, it becomes an ironic punchline, the complete absence of any punishment for the financial sector’s inhuman villains becoming a yoink! reversal. In the face of such horror, The Big Short figures, what to do but laugh?


Getting mad that they’ve remade Point Break? That would be a waste of time. The shitty films of yore will be forever turned into the shitty films of today. A recognisable-IP harbours the perennial potential to both tap into nostalgia and a new audience of idiot teenagers, making remaking about as guaranteed a money-makin’ formula as Hollywood has. The fact that we need our corporate overlords — to provide not just filmed entertainments, but the devices on which to play them, and, more often, the money to live on — is an inconvenient truth central to this remade Point Break, a Totally Xtreme trussing up of the original’s bank-robbing surfers that now involves “extreme sports poly-athletes” acting out the most idiotic conception of eco-terrorism ever.

Here, Ericson Core, a graduate of the Fast/Furious school of stunts-with-bro-hugs, makes Point Break bigger and more ambitious in terms of action and scale, with the relatively-quaint world of surfing super-sized for a global panoply of widescreen daredevilry. Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer tries to match that ambition with a turn towards the dour, losing the cheesy fun of the original for a tonally-weird joylessness: the idiotic script liberally sprinkled with tragic-backstory clichés and laughable new-age quasi-spiritualism.

Espousing such is the job of Édgar Ramírez, whose sententious monologues come armed with unearned gravity and unquestioned haughtiness. He’s the Bodhi of the bit, no longer robbing banks to bankroll an Endless Summer, but stealing from the rich and makin’ it rain cash/diamonds on third-world cut-ins. Though he plays, essentially, a principled terrorist, Ramírez fails to channel any of the complexities of his turn as Carlos, his leaden Point Break performance leading a film populated by them.

Whilst Ray Winstone delivers a delightfully give-a-shit/cheque-cashing Busey turn, Home & Away graduate Luke Bracey attempts to out-wooden Keanu as the surfer-bro turned F! B! I! Agent!, whose “more balls than brains” approach to life means his ‘police work’ involves having a righteous time, boning dead-eyed sex-interest Teresa Palmer, and getting people killed. Bracey ‘infiltrates’ Ramírez’s Band O’ Broze, who’re undertaking a series of death-defying (or, sometimes, not-so-defying) pilgrimages, which involve some opaque idea about ‘giving back’ to Mother Nature by riding dirt bikes, leaping off mountains, and carrying a cache of semi-automatic weapons and explosives for when you need ’em (oh, and, they also stage a bare-knuckled Fight Club, because, um, I don’t know, they must hurt themselves as we’ve hurt the planet?). These Dead Presidents don’t need the loot from robbed banks and jacked diamond reserves to fund their globe-trotting dropping-out, because Nikolai Kinski, their purse-string-holding Patron, has got money to blow.

Kisnki is derided by those who suck from his teat for, essentially, feeling no shame as heir to a colossal fortune. And for all its faux eco-tones and new-age platitudes, Point Break’s philosophical navel-gazing is a veritable shrine to Xtreme First World Guilt. Winstone, in his middle-aged conservatism, derides these dudes as “kids partying away their lives”, and, if there’s a theme to be found amidst its thrill-seekin’ set-pieces and perfunctory thriller tropes, it’s the shame that comes from needing exorbitant amounts of money to leap off mountains and get blazed in luxury yachts whilst attempting to rationalise this as some kind of spiritual, almost monastic existence.

This theme sounds a lot like the lament of the corporate-sponsor-festooned extreme-sports poly-athlete. Or, for that matter, the filmmaker himself; who needs to appease those who’ve sunk $100mil into a 3D tentpole pic that, itself, feels like a flimsy excuse to assemble legendary extreme-sports figures, turn them into a rotating cast of stunt-men, and then go touring the planet. “So, it’s not about money, it’s about spiritual enlightenment?” asks Delroy Lindo, subverting the Angry Black Captain by whispering every line with a thoughtful pause and a paternal “son”. This is, in effect, Point Break’s own great self-delusion. Because, as far as inessential remakes go, Point Break is like the rest of them: there’s nothing spiritual about it. It’s all about the money.