The Revenant ***
As expectations for Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of real life frontiersman Hugh Glass were dashed and replaced by unexpected respect for the chameleon actor Tom Hardy, who plays John Fitzgerald, Glass’ nemesis, it seemed The Revenant might be as epic as the trailers promised. As a study of man’s inhumanity to man, The Revenant succeeds to the point of nausea. Brilliant in its bleakness but hard to watch in its graphic brutality, The Revenant begins by following a group of fur trappers through a treacherous winter landscape (it’s set in the western Louisiana Purchase, circa 1823). The film depicts a group of predominantly heartless American trappers, untrustworthy Frenchmen and hostile Native Americans as they all attempt (with little success) to co-exist in the wilderness and make money in the fur trade. Based in part on the novel by Michael Punke of the same name, this semi-fictionalized tale creates wonder at how we as a species ever survived. DiCaprio speaks little (he probably has 30 lines in the entire 2.5-hr movie), but has been lauded for his commitment to the survivalist role saying it was the most difficult thing he’d ever filmed. It is a remarkable film in many ways, but falls short of its ambitious production values. It’s overly long, gruesome, and hard to watch. Many of the fight scenes are reminiscent of the D-Day invasion opening from Saving Private Ryan, delivering realism and excellence in sound design and photography, for certain. DiCaprio (an Oscar favorite for his portrayal of Glass) is a master of crying, wincing, freezing, and groaning – no one does it better, and he gets plenty of opportunity here to showcase his talents.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ****
The horrible true story former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wishes would go away, 13 Hours retells the heartbreaking tale of the night the U.S. Ambassador to Libya was murdered along with several staff, as a U.S. diplomatic compound and a semi-secret CIA annex nearby were overrun by terrorists on September 11, 2012. Directed by Michael Bay (Armageddon, Transformers), the film’s battle scenes are engrossing and believable, though the storytellers missed some of the more interesting setup opportunities. The event took place less than a year after brutal Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was ousted from power, which led rival militant factions to arm themselves. 13 Hours, specifically is centered around six members of an elite security team who showed uncommon valor against tremendous odds in their attempt to save the Ambassador and the three dozen CIA and civilian personnel caught in the crossfire. The film is especially good at portraying the fog of war, which is especially predominant in the greater Mideast conflict where it’s sometimes impossible to know for certain who is friend and foe. In an odd bit of casting, fans of The Office will enjoy 13 Hours’ star John (Jim) Krasinski and his Office rival David “Roy” Denman as two of the main six contractors. While there’s no mention specifically of Clinton, the film makes it clear that the U.S. response was pitiful and lead to many American and Libyan deaths.
What do those stars mean?