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Movie Reviews - 2015 posts

Friday April 01, 2016

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

And so it ends with a whimper. Mine.

Yes, we’re finally done with this thing that began four years ago, when we were all so much younger and smarter. Now we can step back and see the glorious arc that is “The Hunger Games” tetralogy:

  • Part 1: Katniss becomes reluctant hero.
  • Part 2: Katniss becomes reluctant symbol.
  • Part 3: Katniss becomes reluctant soldier.
  • Part 4: Katniss reluctantly chooses which boy she loves during a revolution.

Did anyone else think about Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” watching this? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part IIIn “Sleeper,” Woody wakes up in the future, becomes part of a rebellion, led by Erno, against the tyrannical “Leader,” who—Woody finds out—has been completely destroyed save for his nose, which the Powers That Be are saving for a cloning experiment. Woody steals the nose and gets away with the girl, Diane Keaton, who still believes in Erno’s rebellion. At the end, Woody tells her: “Don’t you understand—in six months we’ll be stealing Erno’s nose!”

Erno here is Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of the rebellion, which is being orchestrated by former “Hunger Games” showrunner Plutarch Heavensbee. Since Plutarch is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died two years ago, he can only do so much in this movie. That said, Hoffman dead is still a better actor than Liam Hemsworth alive.

So: Revolution at hand, Coin sends Katniss into the Capitol with a team of favorite TV show characters:

  • Remy Danton, “House of Cards”
  • Margaery Tyrell, “Game of Thrones”
  • Foggy Nelson, “Daredevil”
  • Dr. Valentin Narciss, “Boardwalk Empire,” et al.
  • Ro Laren, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” et al. (I've missed you)

Plus the two boys she must choose between: Thor’s brother, Gale, who is tall, handsome and dull; and little Peeta, who is forever in need of saving, and who has been brainwashed by the government and now wants to kill Katniss. What’s a girl to do?

Their mission? To film heroics that will incite the masses. It’s also implied that Coin actually wants Katniss dead. One less obstacle to power, she supposes.

The team journeys across empty cityscapes, outraces a flood of oil (don’t ask), are assumed dead, aren’t, hide underground, are attacked by slimy creatures, and in the end Katniss and Gale wear hoodies and join the Capitol folks in the long walkup to the presidential palace, where the evil Pres. Snow (Donald Sutherland, the best thing in the series) is encouraging everyone to gather. Then bombs fall and many people die, including Katniss’ sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who is the reason Katniss sacrificed everything in the first place. The bombs are blamed on Pres. Snow but we find out, bit by bit, that the rebellion did it. It was Coin, who declares herself interim president, sets up a “Hunger Games” for the Capitol’s children, and lets Katniss kill Snow in the public square with bow and arrow. She introduces her, standing on a platform 100 feet behind Snow, right in the line of fire. 

You see where this is going, right? Katniss steals Erno’s nose. The mob then kills Snow on its own.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1” is not all horrible. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair is good, but he dies in the tunnels (shame), while Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, also interesting, aren’t given enough to do (again). I love it when Snow is giving a speech but his broadcast is usurped by Pres. Coin—a sign of her power—and she quotes Snow on Katniss: “A face 'picked from the masses' he called her,” she says. “Plucked,” he corrects, if only to himself.

Another good bit: As Peeta recovers, he keeps asking Katniss what’s real/not real. I.e., what truly happened to him and or what was he programmed to believe happened? She keeps telling him: real/not real. Then after all the shit goes down, and Gale reveals himself to be a simple-minded soldier (or something), Katniss winds back in District Whatever with Peeta, and then in bed with Peeta; and since he's a sensitive sort, we get this exchange:

Peeta: You love me: Real or not real?
Katniss: [Pause] Real.

Fade out.

Hey, that's actually a nice ending!

Except it fades back in. Idiots. We fast-forward several years to when Peeta and Katniss have two kids and play with them outdoors. He’s by a stream, she’s under a tree. She looks even more distant than before, less “there.” I guess it’s supposed to be peaceful? She says some unnecessary lines in voiceover. Then “The Hunger Games,” which grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide, finally, mercifully, joins the ranks of The Fallen. 

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Posted at 05:30 AM on Apr 01, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Wednesday February 17, 2016

Movie Review: 45 Years (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

On the Monday morning before her 45th wedding anniversary, which will be celebrated with friends on Saturday, Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) goes for a walk in the flat fields of the English countryside with her dog Max, says hello to the postman, a former student, then greets her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), still unshaven and in his bathrobe, in the kitchen. One of the letters in her hand is for him. The contents of it will affect the next five days, and taint their previous 45 years.

“They found her,” he says.

From the trailer I thought the missing person was their daughter, but it’s Katya, his first love. In 1962, he’d been hiking with her in the Swiss Alps when she’d fallen into a fissure. Thanks to global warming, the glacier melted enough that her body, perfectly preserved, was visible if unreachable. It’s a good metaphor for first loves—preserved in ice, irretrievable—and in her late 70s Kate suddenly finds herself competing with a woman 50 years younger; with all of that cold perfection.

Variations in e minor
45 YearsTheir relationship changes subtly and immediately. Geoff tries to probe the depths of his feelings in solitude, which causes Kate to try to get closer. Biscuits in the backyard? Tea? Camera placement highlights this. In the frame, we often see her face, not his. Sometimes we don’t see him at all, as if he isn’t there anymore. In a way, he’s not. He’s visiting the attic in the middle of the night, going into town, mumbling to himself on park benches. Is he returning to Switzerland to see her body? He would like to, but at his age he can’t climb that mountain anymore. Another good metaphor for the past. So he stays where he is; but a fissure develops.

Like themes in a song, we keep getting variations on that awful moment in 1962. Geoff tells Kate he’d hired a guide, a German, who’d fancied himself a Jack Kerouac type. (Kate laughs, knowing how much Geoff dislikes Kerouac—which makes me like Geoff all the more.) Katya spoke German, too, Geoff no, so you get a sense of Geoff being left behind. He allowed himself to be left behind, literally; the other two hiked ahead. He talks about hearing Katya laugh, and how, in his jealousy, he hated her in that moment. Then he heard her cry out as she fell.

What Kate doesn’t explore (the movie either) is how much guilt Geoff must feel about all of this. If he hadn’t been sulking, he would’ve been walking with them; and if he’d been walking with them, would she have died? Is that what he’s doing on the park bench? Arguing against Katya? Kerouac? Himself?

A few days later, we get another variation when Geoff is in town and Kate ascends into the attic. I like how her dog Max whimpers as she prepares to go up, as if he knows there’s danger there, as if he knows this is not regular behavior. He knows the man goes up the ladder, not the woman. But up she goes, into his past. I also like how, in the opening credits, white type against a black screen, we hear a whirring and a clicking. I thought, “Slides?” Yes. After going through his old notebook, its pages mottled and thickened by age, she views the slides he’s been viewing. It’s a great, silent scene: the blurred images of Katya on the right side of the screen, with Kate on the left, in focus, and hardening. She and Geoff have very few photos of themselves—her call—and no kids. Now she discovers Geoff has all of these photos of Katya, perfectly preserved; and in the slides, it’s obvious that Katya was pregnant when she died. So it’s not just his old love that’s forever frozen in the Alps but his unborn child. The slides contain the beginning of a life he tragically didn’t lead. Which makes Kate what? The life he tragically did?

(The pregnancy revelation does raise questions. Why were they hiking in the mountains if she was pregnant? And why the jealousy? Would Kerouac really have come on to a pregnant woman? Would Geoff really have been so jealous? Pregnancy is a different dynamic—woman as mother rather than sex object—so skews things a bit, even as it deepens them.)

More things in their careful world are changing. Each day, the first thing we first see is Kate walking the fields with Max. But by Thursday, no, and Friday she wakes to a note next to her: “I’ve taken the bus into town. Sorry.” Saturday, the day of their anniversary celebration, Geoff wakes her up with tea and breakfast. Now he’s the one trying to get close again—like biscuits in the backyard—and later we get an interlude. She’s digging in the garage and comes across some J.S. Bach sheet music. “Found it!” she calls out. Then she goes into the living room and plays it. But in the entire scene, we never see or hear Geoff. She’s calling out to no one, playing for no one.

How I knew
The Bach is an anomaly. The music we get for most of the movie, and which plays at their anniversary celebration, is ’60s pop. It’s “true love” music: “The only one for me is you/And you for me/So happy together,” etc. That night, in fact, they dance to “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by the Platters, which is about as lush and romantic a pop song as there is: 

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
Oh-Ohhhhhhhhhhh
I of course replied
Something here inside
Cannot be denied

But it’s the opposite of romantic here. By now Kate knows, or feels, that she’s not the true love of the song, so she hardens and stiffens in Geoff’s arms, even as he (compensating?) gets looser, loopier. You could say she’s dancing to some other woman’s song on some other woman’s anniversary. Because 45 years? Who does a black-tie celebration for that? That’s why the title of the movie is so perfect. The big one is the 50th, and that’s Katya’s. It’s been 50 years since she died. Is nothing Kate’s? Even their names: “Katya” is exotic, romantic; “Kate,” in comparison, can’t help but sound quotidian. It doesn't compare.

For all of the movie’s quiet power, though, I found myself disappointed in Kate. Almost everyone has their (albeit less tragic) past love, their Katya on ice, and part of aging, part of wisdom, is to accept that, and them. It’s to not buy into the bullshit of the pop song. Charlotte Rampling usually plays smarter, more wordly women.

Even so, “45 Years,” written and directed by Andrew Haigh (HBO’s “Looking”), from a short story by David Constantine, is the epitome of the quiet-but-powerful movie. It’s about what ties us to the past, and what divides us in the present. It’s the unknowability of the heart, and of the other person. It’s the misstep that isn’t righted. 

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Posted at 08:30 AM on Feb 17, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Monday January 25, 2016

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Halfway through, I felt something I rarely feel in a Quentin Tarantino movie: Boredom.

Tarantino’s movies are like “My Dinner with Andre” directed by Sam Peckinpah: they're long conversations punctuated by violence. And if the conversations are good (and usually they are), and the violence isn’t too excessive (well...), then I leave the theater happy and energized. Here, the stories are kinda lame and the violence over-the-top.

Kurt Russell may be at fault, too. He plays John “The Hangman” Ruth, a bounty hunter who is taking a prize catch, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, welcome back), worth $10,000, to Red Rock, via stagecoach that’s trying to stay one step ahead of a blizzard. Along the way they pick up two separate passengers in the middle of nowhere: Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), whose father used to run a post-Civil War Confederate gang in the west, and who claims he’s going to Red Rock to become its next sheriff.

The Hateful EightEventually, the blizzard catches up to them and they’re forced to lodge at Minnie’s (Dana Gourrier), but, oddly, Minnie isn’t there, and Ruth takes a long slow look at the other guests: the flamboyantly British Oswaldo Mobry (Tim Roth), who claims to be the hangman of Red Rock; the quiet Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), sitting near the fire and writing his life story; and Gen. Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a cranky old Confederate officer who was responsible for a massacre in Louisiana.

Holding the floor
It’s a movie about shifting suspicions and loyalties. Of course Mannix (named for the ’60s TV detective played by Mike Conners) and Smithers (for Waylon?) don’t much like Warren, while Warren is suspicious of Bob (Demian Bichir), a Mexican who claims to be running Minnie’s in her absence. Warren, you see, knows things. He’s privy to information. So are most of the others. (In this Wyoming standoff, in fact, who isn’t holding secret intel? I think just Ruth and Mannix.) And it all comes to a boil when Warren goads Gen. Smithers to go for a gun. He does this by telling him a story.

That’s classic QT: In a Tarantino movie, the one with the story is the one in control. You hold the power by holding the floor. Sadly, Maj. Warren’s story is hardly a classic.

Seems Gen. Smithers’ son was in Wyoming to kill Warren—a notorious Northern renegade with a bounty on his head—but Warren got the upper hand, marched the kid naked through the snow; and when the kid begged for a blanket, he forced him to go down on him; then he killed him anyway. We never know if this story is real or designed to mess with the aged mind of Gen. Smithers, whom Warren despises, but either way the General listens to the story way too long to feel real. He would’ve gone for the gun much earlier. When he does, of course, he’s dead. And in the meantime, with everyone distracted, someone’s poisoned the coffee, and both Ruth and the stage coach driver suffer a long, horrid, blood-spewing death from it. That’s when Warren really takes over the movie.

And this is when it gets interesting. So it made me think that either Kurt Russell isn’t charismatic enough, or his character, Ruth, is too grumbling and irascible to be the main guy. In the first half, he held the floor and the result was “meh.” After his death, Maj. Warren holds the floor, we get Sam Jackson’s clear voice ringing out, and I was intrigued.

It helps, I suppose, that by this point the movie has become a whodunit. Who poisoned the coffee? To what end? And who will be the last man standing? (Full disclosure: no one.)

What about Bob?
“Hateful Eight” shares other Tarantino tropes. The enclosed nature of the standoff is like “Reservoir Dogs.” Like in “Pulp Fiction,” there’s a man with a gun (Daisy’s brother, played by Channing Tatum) hidden away as Sam Jackson rages on; unlike in “Pulp Fiction,” the hidden guy doesn’t miss his mark. We get an extensive flashback to make sense of what’s going on—as in “Dogs,” “Fiction,” etc.—but it’s wholly unnecessary here. We get it: Daisy’s gang came in and killed Minnie and the others. Onward already.

My favorite part of the movie is the detective work. Bob says Minnie left earlier in the week to visit her mother, but Warren knows: 1) Minnie hates Mexicans, and 2) the stew tastes like Minnie’s stew, which means she couldn’t have left earlier in the week. So why doesn’t he share this info with Ruth? More, why does he go after the toothless general first—allowing Gage to poison the coffee that kills Ruth? Once we know the whole story, Warren’s actions don’t make much sense.

“Hateful Eight” is long on runtime (167 minutes), long on viscera, and short on wit. It's lesser Tarantino. Possibly least Tarantino.

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Posted at 09:15 AM on Jan 25, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Tuesday January 19, 2016

Movie Review: Spotlight (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

For a drama about uncovering the Catholic church child molestation scandal, “Spotlight” is surprisingly undramatic. What’s the most dramatic moment? Racing to a copy machine before a government office closes? A lawyer circling a list of names? Its tone throughout is matter-of-fact. You might even call it objective.

Director Tom McCarthy keeps making good movies (“Station Agent,” “Win Win”), but as an actor his most famous role is probably Scott Templeton, the Baltimore Sun reporter who fabricated details and quotes and, well, people, in the fifth season of “The Wire.” Now he—Scotty Templeton!—has given us the best movie about investigative journalism since “The Insider.”

Spotlight filmThe more interesting point of comparison, though, may be with “All the President’s Men.” Both movies feature Ben Bradlee: Sr. (Jason Robards) in the first, Jr. (John Slattery, doomed to play bon vivants) here. Both movies focus on uncovering the corruption of powerful institutions (the White House, the Catholic Church) that loom large over their respective cities (D.C., Boston). The difference is in the numbers. For Woodward and Bernstein, the investigative thrust is toward the one: What did the president know and when did he know it? In “Spotlight,” the investigative thrust is toward the many. The question isn’t “How high does it go?” but “How widespread is it?” At first we have one child-abusing priest, then three; then 13; then 87. Each time, the newer number is met with incredulity. It seems an impossibly cynical suggestion. Then it’s eclipsed.

It takes a village
There aren’t many movie characters that intrigued me more this past year than Liev Schreiber’s Marty Baron. He arrives at The Boston Globe from Florida with the reputation as a hatchet man. Is he? We wonder, along with Bradlee, and Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), the head of the four-person Spotlight investigative team. Will they lose headcount? Is Spotlight being cut altogether? There’s an initial tentativeness around Baron that feels real, and he doesn’t help matters by being a slightly odd duck. He’s soft-spoken, seemingly distracted but actually focused. His oddities, his stranger-in-a-strange-land persona, jumpstarts the investigation, since he sees Boston with fresh eyes. If Schreiber had had more screentime, I think he would’ve been nominated for an Oscar.

Each member of the Spotlight team has a particular focus. The hyperactive Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) sniffs around the offices of attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who represents more than 50 plaintiffs in separate lawsuits against the Catholic Church, and who is not impressed with the Globe’s coverage thus far. Initially he’s not helpful. But he appreciates Rezendes’ doggedness, and eventually his work, and he keeps pointing the way. He’s this movie’s Deep Throat, except they meet on park benches in the afternoon rather than parking garages at 3 a.m.

Meanwhile, Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) goes door-to-door to find victims and victimizers, while Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) realizes halfway through the investigation that a kind of halfway house for abusive priests is a block away from where he’s raising his kids; that’s when it gets personal for him. (Sidenote: Critics keep talking up how much the actors actually look like journalists, and it’s particularly true for James with his soup-strained moustache; but it’s not true at all for McAdams. Sorry. Bless your heart, Rachel, you give it a go, but you’re still way too pretty for print journalism.)

Robby is the guy who deals with the mucky-mucks and poo-bahs. At one point, he accuses a rich, seemingly slick PI-plaintiff attorney, Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup), of making money off abuse, and Macleish tosses it back in his face. He alerted the paper years ago, he says; and the paper did nothing. Do we ever get closure on this? Who’s at fault? Robby? Bradlee?

The larger message is that no one is clean. “If it takes a village to raise a child,” Garabedian says later, “it takes a village to abuse one.”

Tell me the half of it
“Spotlight” is a treasure trove of great dialogue. Early on, Baron is telling Robby how he wants to find a way to make the paper essential to its readers: 

Robby: I like to think it already is.
Baron [pause, assessment]: Fair enough.

Or this moment when Pfeiffer is drawing out an abuse victim in the shadow of a nearby church:

Pfeiffer: Joe, did you ever try to tell anyone?
Joe: Like who—a priest?

Even this, as Rezendes sits with a beleaguered Garabedian, who really is begging to tell his story, during a lunch break from the local courthouse:

Garabedian: You don’t know the half of it.
Rezendes: Tell me the half of it, Mitch.

I love that 9/11, of all days, is a kind of annoyance in this story; it interrupts the story, as it interrupted all of our stories. I like the looming churches, and all they signify, and the AOL billboard outside the Globe offices, and all it signifies. It’s a reminder of the other battle journalists are fighting—against obsolescence. “Spotlight” shows us the necessity of good investigative journalism even as we are creating the circumstances—by what we buy, what we click on—that will soon restrict its efficacy. The last words we hear are Robby’s, picking up a phone. “This is Spotlight,” he says. The story is out, the phones are ringing, the work continues. It should be triumphant; and it is. But it also feels like the end of something. 

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Posted at 07:32 AM on Jan 19, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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Friday January 15, 2016

Movie Review: The Revenant (2015)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Glass is an interesting choice for the name of a man who doesn’t break, but it turns out it’s not a choice.

Hugh Glass was part of an expedition that went up the Missouri river, from South Dakota to Montana, on a fur-trading expedition in the early 1820s. He was attacked by a bear, left for dead by a man named Fitzgerald, survived, sought revenge. It’s all there. In real life, of course, the revenge isn’t as clean as in the movie. And it’s not clean in the movie.

The Revenant“The Revenant” (meaning: one who has returned, particularly from the dead) is a shifting landscape of betrayal and revenge; it’s a movie you feel as much as see. In old westerns, arrows flew threw the air like toothpicks; here they have heft and force. The bear is fast, monstrous; you feel its weight as it smashes Leonardo DiCaprio’s face into the mud, and its hot breath literally fogs the camera. The power of the river current is overwhelming, the chill of the wind debilitating. It’s a palpable movie. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu could’ve called it, “The Unrelentant,” because it doesn’t stop.

It’s also gorgeously filmed, and one of the best movies of the year.

The turnin’ of the earth
It’s actually a collision of two westerns, isn’t it? The story is set in motion by Elk Dog (Duane Howard), the leader of the Arikara tribe, who is searching for his kidnapped daughter, Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o). That’s why the fur-trading expedition is attacked—mistakenly, it turns out, they had nothing to do with Powaqa—and why Glass and the men flee down the Missouri, then take to land. They’re pursued. In this way, Elk Dog is a Native American version of John Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, in John Ford’s “The Searchers.” Ironic, given Ethan’s thoughts on the matter:

Injun will chase a thing till he thinks he’s chased it enough. Then he quits. Same way when he runs. Seems like he never learns there’s such a thing as a critter that’ll just keep comin’ on. So we’ll find ’em in the end, I promise you. We'll find ’em. Just as sure as the turnin’ of the earth.

Glass’ story, meanwhile, is a western tale of revenge a la “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” He loses everything and becomes revenge personified; but he never becomes wish-fulfillment fantasy in the way Clint Eastwood does. He’s too broken; it’s all too awful.

In fleeing the Arikara, fur pelts—the whole point of the expedition—have to be left behind, and that doesn’t sit right with Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy); and in a backwoods Maryland accent so thick it makes Bain’s enunciation in “The Dark Knight Rises” seem as precise as John Houseman’s, he bitches, threatens, and casts aspersions on Glass and his half-breed son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). There’s a good line from Glass berating Hawk for his intemperance in native Pawnee: “They don’t hear you; they only see the color of your face.”

It’s a dirty world Inarritu recreates, but there’s something extra dirty about Fitzgerald. Once almost scalped, he now scalps. He complains about Indians stealing from the dead even as he does the same. He feels screwed, and is: After all that work and risk, we find he still owes the company store.

His most awful moment may be when he confronts Glass, rendered immobile and helpless by the bear attack, and offers to end his pain if he’ll only signal by blinking. It’s like making the signal breathing. Fitzgerald needs Glass to die so he can move on, but he wants permission and rigs the game. Or does he? We watch Glass’ helpless face, his eyes struggling not to blink; but then he seems to acquiesce. He closes them completely. Later, in their climactic struggle, Fitzgerald will bring this up. “You and me, we had a deal,” he says. But as Fitzgerald tries to suffocate Glass, and as Glass struggles, Hawk arrives, attacks Fitzgerald, and is killed himself. Then Glass is tossed into a hastily dug grave. “We buried him proper,” Fitzgerald says later. Everything the man touches turns to dishonor.

It’s a long road back for Glass, and Inarritu doesn’t allow him (or us) any cinematic shortcuts. We see him go through animal stages: crawling on all fours; eating small birds, and raw fish, and liver. It’s almost a triumph when he can walk upright again, a man again, but a man with one thing in mind: revenge. Which is its own burden. At one point, Glass is saved by a lone Pawnee, Hikuc (Arthur RedCloud), trying to reconnect with his tribe, who tells him, “Revenge is in the creator’s hands, not man’s.” Glass will think back on this as he finally has his hands around Fitzgerald’s throat. It’s the high ground, but he—and we—don’t want it. Instead, he takes a middle ground. He lets the current, and the Arikara, take Fitzgerald.

There are still honorable men in this world: Hikuc; Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the expedition leader; Bridger (Will Poulter, quite good), Fitzgerald’s unwilling partner, who is not witness to Fitzgerald’s crimes, and remains haunted by their actions. Each man surprised me a little. The modern western gives us the cackling and the profane, suggesting this was the norm in a harsh, lawless world. These guys seem honorable despite that world. Or maybe because of it. To distinguish themselves from it. To keep it at a distance.

Of course, they don’t end well. Capt. Henry counsels Glass against pursuing Fitzgerald but accompanies him anyway; he’s scalped for this trouble. And Hikuc? After saving Glass’ life, he’s strung up by French forces—the ones who kidnapped Powaqa in the first place—who hang a sign around his neck: On est tous des sauvages. “We are all savages.” Not quite. The savages survive.

Light as a principle of survival
Nature may be the most savage of all. Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki film both the grandeur and horror of nature, along with the smallness of man (both ways) against that landscape. In a great article in Film Comment, David Thomson says the use of natural light in the film “addresses mankind’s relationship with nature before electricity.” He call it “a principle of survival,” which is exactly right. So often in this movie light means life, or a chance at it. It bursts through, and we’re grateful.

Near the end, after Glass lets the Arikara take Fitzgerald, he kneels on all fours by the river, spent, as the Indians pass. They don’t kill him—he freed Powaqa from the French—but they, and she, are not exactly grateful. She views him imperiously from above. That’s the feel of nature, too. If it views us, that’s how it views us.

Some of my favorite moments have nothing to do with the plot: the avalanche in the distance after Capt. Henry’s death; Glass and Hikuc catching snowflakes on their tongue. Is it too improbable? Too much? Maybe. When it was over, I was exhausted. I thought, “Beautiful, but I doubt if I’ll ever want to see it again.” It’s a day later and I want to see it again. 

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Posted at 09:14 AM on Jan 15, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2015
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