As the new awards season rolls around, months of gossip and countless sleepless nights of predictions unravel at last. Independent films finally shine in the overexposed light of Hollywood and beloved stars, unfairly snubbed in previous ceremonies, finally get the pat on the back they deserve with a nomination or two.
Or twelve. That’s right, 2015’s golden boy Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is for the second year running at the top of the Oscar nominations leaderboard. The Revenant has completed the must-have checklist for Oscar nominees and seems to be fanning the Academy’s ego quite nicely. It is undeniably beautifully shot, the silent words of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki etched in the battle scenes and endless landscapes – watch and learn, kids.
Like many others at the moment, The Revenant doesn’t take the risk of spinning a completely new tale. What if it’s not credible? What if it’s just not interesting? So, as one does when in doubt, it plucks a heroic real-life act of endurance and coats it with a thick meaningful message about one man against the world. Or something like that. The Revenant has all the elements setting it up for success. It also, and most importantly, has one man with a lot of unfinished business. Leonardo Di Caprio takes on the lead role in the two and a half hour epic, battling with the men, the bear, the script and the Academy. He is determined to get his Oscar, once and for all.
The Revenant’s marketing technique doesn’t seem to focus on the story, the place, or anything to do with the film as an independent entity at all. It is a means to an end, the path on which Di Caprio walks leading him to an Oscar. At least, this is the way the world seems to be portraying it. Every preview, trailer, interview, press release and review without fail ticks the “Di Caprio’s Oscar!” box on the Revenant checklist. The hype around not the film itself but its leading star has tainted viewing experiences of the film, the pressure of applause following Di Caprio’s performance always looming in cinemas everywhere
Let’s for one moment imagine The Revenant as a film with a low profile director and an unfamiliar face. Wouldn’t it be a great watch? The story doesn’t do anything wrong and as mentioned earlier, it does look good. Take away the big names and the overwhelming hype and you have an interesting film. Man gets attacked by the bear, gets attacked by man, dies, comes back to life, what a life it is. But to say that Leonardo Di Caprio has to win the Oscar for Best Actor in The Revenant? You must be having a laugh.
Don’t get me wrong, Leonardo Di Caprio is a fantastic actor, a fact that needs no justification. Arnie Grape, Jay Gatsby, Frank Abagnale and more recently Jordan Belfort – all rich and complex characters that Di Caprio has brought to life in sensational ways. But Hugh Glass’s name deserves no place alongside these others. His tale is astonishing and by all means deserves to be told, but why does this mean that when Di Caprio’s name is on the tin, the performance suddenly becomes Oscar-worthy?
Hugh Glass goes through a lot in The Revenant and his ordeal is expressed through Di Caprio’s physical performance. The duress under which a lot of scenes were shot transpires in the film, there is an undeniable weight in the protagonist’s ordeal which at times is overwhelming. But the man himself doesn’t actually do a lot. Pants, grunts, muffled cries and battles, these are the motifs of Glass’ existence as he fights his way back to life for justice. And sure, Di Caprio embodies this – but since when do we give Oscars for endurance? I applaud his commitment and commend the whole production’s dedication to atmospheric realism. But we do not have to give Leonardo Di Caprio an Oscar for this.
In the key face off with the bear, I found myself turning to my friend in the cinema. “Is that it?” I asked. Months of anticipation and showers of praise for this cinematic wonder, which actually turns out to be little more than a rough-and-tumble. When Glass is faced with his newfound pawnee friend, there is no rich characterisation that one might expect, a celebration of diversity and an exploration of human relations between both men. They grunt, and stick their tounges out at each other. 25 years of an acting career for this?
Actor and character complete each other – a good character is wasted on a bad actor and a good actor can only do so much with a somewhat weak character. The problem that has arisen with The Revenant isn’t the performance or the actor as such. It comes from the unjustified expectations that the world has placed on Leonardo Di Caprio and the Academy to finally agree on giving him an Oscar, after multiple extremely worthy performances. I wish that was the way it worked – I wish an actor was given an Oscar for his career and just let him know he was great every once in a while regardless of his most recent project, but unfortunately that’s not the way it works.
Yes, he was extremely worthy of an Oscar in 2014. Yes, I think Leonardo Di Caprio should have multiple Oscars because he is a great actor. But no, we do not have to give him an Oscar for his performance in The Revenant. This is not I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, gold stars are not dished out for eating raw meat. The Academy should recognize outstanding and inspiring performances instead of apologizing for past snubs by making an embarrassing mistake.
Originally published on Epigram