If you haven’t seen this film yet, you might say it’s just one of those Oscar movies – a period piece with hidden liberal agendas. And you’d be right, but you’d also be missing so much about filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”) opus set in the uncharted American frontier of the early 1800’s. You’d miss the moving still-life paintings of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. You’d miss terrific suspense, magnified by intense tracking shots. You’d miss the dramatic tour-de-force performance of Leonardo DiCaprio which included him learning two Native American languages, breathing out icy snot most of the time and eating a real slab of bison’s liver. You’d miss DiCaprio’s costars, Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson, design the rules of man as polar-opposite fur traders. All of this helped to pull in 12 Oscar nominations and three wins, and yes, Leo finally got his first win. What’s more than all this is it’s really worth a watch.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This isn’t a desecration. Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 original “Point Break” wasn’t sacred. It was just a fun action movie. Sure, it made Keanu Reeves an action star. Okay, it gave us a new, kooky Gary Busey. And Patrick Swayze got to be the bad guy. But overall, it’s just a fun flick. That’s the problem with this. Everything is so serious. Luke Bracey (no relation) replaces Reeves without so much as a duh or a smirk. Instead of robbing banks, these guys are eco-terrorists, led by a frowning Edgar Ramirez (“Joy”). Ray Winstone (“The Departed”) plays cool European to replace the unkempt Busey. The sleek Teresa Palmer (“Warm Bodies”) fills a role once played by the awkward Lori Petty. There’s nothing messy here. Messy was the charm of the original. Director Ericson Core (“Invincible”) and writer Kurt Wimmer (2012’s “Total Recall”) don’t break anything to make their point, that’s why this taste so bland – pass.
Writer/director William Monahan bought himself some freedom when his first three scripts were successful – 2005’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” 2006’s “The Departed” and 2008’s “Body of Lies.” He hasn’t written anything with as much clout since, and his directorial offerings have been, well, just blah. He goes minimal here – a thriller set in Los Angeles and the surrounding desert. For the two main characters, you can choose between a suicidal actor (Garrett Hedlund) or a mysterious drifter (Oscar Isaac). There are moments when Isaac is a likable villain, but the same is never true of Hedlund, and it’s just not good when your lead has no redeeming qualities. The true shame is the misuse of a grade-A supporting cast – Walton Goggins, Mark Wahlberg and Louise Bourgoin drop in and out of scenes for no real reason, but you miss them when they’re gone. Leave this one in the desert to die – pass.