The Revenant – Pacing versus Payoff

After hearing about its Best Picture Oscar nomination, I was compelled to finally see Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” (2015). It was a lot of things—intense, fantastically acted by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, and most notably: beautifully, perfectly shot. That being said, it was also self-indulgent, unnecessarily long, and painfully disjointed for much of the second act, a.k.a the bulk of its 2 ½ hour runtime. Considering it’s ‘inspired by true events’, it seems they had the beginning and the end all planned out (and they were executed so well), but too much of the movie feels like it’s just one idea being piled on top of the other.

It’s a revenge flick. DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is wounded physically and emotionally to the point where we as the audience believe he’s hit rock bottom. But he doesn’t. There’s about an hour and a half of Glass suffering, crawling his way towards his distant revenge—and honestly it feels inconsequential. A series of unfortunate events strike Glass one after the other, though hardly connected between each other and hardly contributing to the story or his own character development. Each scene often ends with Glass falling unconscious before waking up to another torturous event, like the ever-tempting transition of a children’s novel. As a revenge flick, it’s understandable they want to give the audience reason after reason to sympathize Glass / hate Tom Hardy’s character John Fitzgerald, and it does… but in a drawn out, choppy manner that had me asking “…really?”

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SPOILERS FOR THE REVENANT:

            When Glass finally gets close enough to be discovered by the men who had thought he was dead, it happens so suddenly and for no good reason, that it leaves you wondering what the last hour was even for. Obviously Glass gets closer and closer to their encampment, sure, but the release/relief feels so unearned (for me at least). That’s not to say that every plot should follow a linear A to B to C pattern, but maybe the events of the film should be connected or even remotely affect each other in the slightest. And if not to drive the plot forward in some way, a good scene should tell us create tension or build the character. Glass shows little change throughout, grunting and wheezing the whole way through, and any hurt inflicted on him feels like a cheap thrill more than a valuable addition to the tension. To put the viewer through that much pain (and it is painful to watch, in an emphatic way) to only dish out a weak payoff feels like you cheated them for much of the film.

The finale and his ultimate revenge is very satisfying, but considering the amount of buildup that frankly fizzled out half an hour too early, the emotional punch of The Revenant was all but lost on me. It’s still a fine film composed of great factors—perhaps it could’ve been edited to become truly great. It just shows the needlepoint that effective plot so delicately balances on.

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