We have some advice for the new movie from the director of Birdman.
We’re all connoisseurs of something, whether its wines, cheeses, cars etc. Hell, I have a friend who collects pencils! I, however, am interested in the finest vintage of movies. But not just any old sort of film. No, I need bullets and smoke. Blood and fury. I’m talking about the sweet emotional catharsis of the good ol’ REVENGE MOVIE!
So naturally, with my refined taste for comeuppance and blood, I got forwarded the new trailer for The Revenant, and it hit all the right notes:
It’s moody and drab, with a haunting inevitable drumbeat that sets up the story of Hugh Glass, a hunter on his quest to find the man that killed his son. THEY KILL’T HIS BOY!!! It’s got a great Oscar pedigree and looks to earn its inevitable nominations in directing and cinematography. But don’t let nominations for an artsy naked gold statue fool you: this is shaping up to be a classic in the Revenge/ Kill ‘em back genre.
After watching this I started going back over some of my favorite recent revenge flicks, seeing what they nailed and what elements I hope are present in The Revenant. (Spoiler Alert for some of these classics that you should watch ASAP if you haven’t.)
5. Kill Bill
The premise of Tarantino’s two-part kung-fu epic shares some similarities where The Bride is left for dead and buried alive. Big mistake movie bad guys, always confirm your kills! I loved the slowly escalating video game nature of the structure as The Bride kills her way up the chain all the way to Bill. It looks like a couple of people are involved in the initial betrayal in The Revenant so Hugh might have himself a list to clean up. It’s a great way to build tension and to make each kill an opportunity to build up the legend of the big bad.
4. Django Unchained
Another modern classic from the lens and pen of Tarantino, and a great Western to boot, Django tackles a heavy subject matter with a purposefully irreverent glibness. This approach really punctuates the especially dark and horrific scenes in the movie, and it’s something that The Revenant director Alejandro Inarritu proved he could do, too, in his last film. Birdman was an incredible balancing act between great comedy and existential tragedy. Great thrillers can find that balance between the dark, violent moments with some breathing room. The Revenant figures to be a good deal more realistic – or at least less coy – than Django Unchained, but it could learn something from Tarantino’s trademark smarm.
3. John Wick
Don’t call it a comeback, Keanu’s been here for years.
John Wick was the stylish and slick 2014 action thriller that put Reeves back on the map and highlighted the importance of good motivation in the genre. After a pretty brief backstory (that didn’t need to be any longer), a down-and-out John Wick is forced to watch him kill his dog, his only friend and final memento from his dead wife. It’s so brutal and unjust that the momentum leaves the viewer squarely in John’s corner for the next 90 minutes of flip kicks and dragon arm twists. The best thing The Revenant can do is make me feel for Hugh Glass, create a real connection between him and his son before it breaks our hearts!
Another comeback story, Taken created an entire subgenre of revenge films strictly for Liam Neeson (sorry, Nicolas Cage). There’s not really anyone else out there at Liam’s age doing arm bars and dual wielding pistols. Anthony Hopkins was Odin but all he did was sit in a throne or lie down in a throne. While the star of Taken was older than expected, the action and fight choreography was new and modern. Dynamic hand to hand fights and impressive gunplay were on display.
But I actually DON’T want The Revenant to follow this mold. The stylish action works for a modern film like Taken, but I want The Revenant to stay true to its gritty, western aesthetic. Fights should be clumsy and brutal. A stray rock or bullet could end the fight at any moment, and touches like that will give the film the feel like nobody is safe.
Gladiator had it all, a classic tale of revenge that spawned numerous knock offs. Does the main character have the love of his friends and countryman? Check. Beautiful wife and child? Check. Dead wife and child. Double Check. A jealous rival? You bet. Put it all in a pot and you have one of the most sweeping epics in recent memory. Gladiator doesn’t pull a single punch, and The Revenant doesn’t look like it will either. But Maximus’s tale ultimately ends in death, a man who’s revenge was the only thing keeping him going. I’m looking forward to seeing what type of man Hugh Glass in, and if he exists only for revenge or if he can see more for himself.
I’m an action/thriller guy and I usually don’t spend my Decembers watching art-house films. Don’t forget, though, that in every Venn diagram there’s a little part in the middle where the circles cross over. The Revenant looks like it’s not to be missed.