The Revenant

Whilst guiding a team of fur trappers in the snowy North American wilderness of the 1820s, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself in a pretty poor state after being mauled by a bear whilst the group is fleeing a surprise attack from a Native American tribe they refer to as the Ree. Being unable to carry Glass back safely without endangering the rest of the team, captain of the party Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) requests Glass remain behind but be cared for and properly buried when the time comes. He leaves Glass under the protection of bitter, greedy trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), naive and inexperienced Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’ own half-Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Circumstances arise that see Glass being abandoned with life still, barely, coursing through his veins, and he finds himself driven by vengeance against those responsible for abandoning him.
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The Departed

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

In Boston’s grimy crime-ridden underbelly, Irish mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is high on the wanted list of Massachusetts State Police, who plant a mole, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) inside Costello’s operation. Unbeknownst to the police, Costello has performed a parallel manoeuvre, with his man Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) infiltrating the police system.
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The Wolf of Wall Street

Back in 1987, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) was an ambitious up-and-coming stock broker on Wall Street but, on the day he received his broker’s license, h also lost his job to the infamous Black Monday. Starting from the bottom, he discovered the wonder of penny stocks, which were much cheaper but garnered the broker a far larger share of the profits, allowing Jordan to quickly create his own company – later named Stratton Oakmont – and rise up the ranks to becoming a ludicrously wealthy hedonist with a penchant for every kind of narcotic available, and many that aren’t. However, Jordan’s wealth and the corrupt manners in which it has been accrued soon come to the attention of the FBI.
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Django Unchained

Bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx), who has information on the Brittle Brothers, Schultz’s next targets. After Django helps him find them, Schultz agrees to train Django to work alongside him as a partner, with the intention of saving Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). But to save Broomhilda, the pair will also have to get past Candie’s ruthless housemaster Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
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Gangs of New York

New York, 1846. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), the leader of a group of Irishmen going by the name of the Dead Rabbits, has roused other rival gangs to join together and fight Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), the leader of the tyrannical New York Natives, over ownership of the Five Points. When Neeson is slain, his son escapes and leaves the city, returning sixteen years later as Leonardo DiCaprio, who understandably has a score to settle with Bill over his father’s murder.

I can see what Martin Scorsese was trying to do here, basically a mid-19th century Goodfellas, but if Henry Hill had a vendetta against Paulie, but unfortunately he was quite a way off the mark. Whilst Gangs of New York isn’t a bad film, it’s no match for Goodfellas in terms of story and generally being awesome. What Gangs does have, though, is a lot more violence, and of course Daniel Day-Lewis in full on mental mode. His Bill Cutting is easily the best and most memorable aspect of the film, with his hair plastered immobile to his scalp, with his fringe greased down and intimidating moustache twisted up. As always, Day-Lewis gives an intense, extreme yet believable performance as the film’s most rounded character, and the fact that he lost to Adrien Brody for The Pianist (one of ten Oscar nominations the film failed to pick up trophies for) is beyond me, though Brody should definitely have been nominated. Bill is, at times, downright terrifying, most notably during the knife-throwing scene, where his “Whoopsy-daisy!” sends a shiver down my spine, and waking up to see Daniel Day-Lewis, draped in the American flag, may well soon be a recurring nightmare of mine.

By comparison, DiCaprio’s Amsterdam is something of a disappointing hero, dithering about with Cameron Diaz’s petty thief Jenny, who also happens to have a connection with Bill, as he quickly rises through the ranks of New York’s gang culture. He’s a bit bland to be honest, although really who wouldn’t be when compared to Bill the Butcher? and the dance scene he and Diaz share is insipid and awkward, far more than I feel it should be. The supporting cast fares better, comprised of the likes of Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Henry Thomas (Elliot from E.T.!), Stephen Graham and Eddie Marsan making up the lower ranks, but all making their marks. 

The script is largely good and often quotable, with such gems as “You see this knife? I’m going to teach you to speak English with this f**king knife!”, “She’s a prim-looking star-gazer,” and my personal favourite, “I don’t give a tuppenny f**k about your moral conundrum you meat-headed sh*t sack!” The occasional black comedy was nice – the town has 37 individually run fire departments, who spend more time brawling over who gets to fight the fires than they do actually putting the fires out, and Broadbent’s politician’s solution to people hassling him is to hang some people – but no-one important of course. And there’s so much floor-spitting it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t have to walk around in wellington boots.

I feel I must mention the violence in this film, as there’s an awful lot more than I was expecting. At times it’s fairly comical – Neeson’s priest setting bludgeoning people about the heads with his cross – but elsewhere it’s less appreciated, for example a woman who rips off ears (she then uses them as a form of payment at the local bar), and there are far more animal carcasses than I really wanted to see. This is only to be expected – Bill is a butcher, after all, but we see more here than during a Rocky training montage. Along with the violence and dead pigs, there’s also enough racism to make even Prince Philip blush. No racial slur goes uncussed.

My main problem with this film is the lack of subtlety. There’s a pretty blatant metaphor spelled out in the opening scene, as Neeson recounts to his son the tale of St. Michael, who cast Satan out of paradise. It becomes pretty clear than in this parable, DiCaprio is to play the part of the saint, Cutting is Satan (his main office is referred to as Satan’s Circus) and paradise is New York, more specifically Paradise Square, the centre of the Five Points. This metaphor is handled pretty heavily, and flashing back to this opening scene every time Amsterdam encounters someone from his childhood really doesn’t help. I approved of the parallels between the two warring sides – they both pray to the same God, as do the law enforcement out to stop them, all believing they are on the side of justice and their Lord. The politics wasn’t bad either, though again it was less subtle than it could have been, with conscripts to the civil war boarding onto a boat as coffins are simultaneously unloaded from it directly in front of them.

The scale of the scenes is very impressive, with hundreds of extras across multiple storeys of buildings and far into the distance, occasionally pyrotechnics and a hell of a lot going on. This, along with Daniel Day-Lewis, is the only part of the film really worth watching for, so I can’t recommend it all that much.

Choose life 6/10

Inception

Apparently the concept of Inception began when director Chris Nolan, he of the Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento and the upcoming Dark Knight Rises, the most anticipated film of 2012 (tied with the Avengers and the Hobbit), wanted to make a film in which several climaxes are all occurring simultaneously. Most directors would then structure a plot in such a way as to have different characters in different locations, all partaking in various climactic events and cutting between them, but Nolan, in what I’m going to assume was an evening rife with alcohol, narcotics and some rare kinds of cheese, opted instead to make a film predominantly set within the world of dreams.

Taking an already interesting, fantastical premise – secrets can be obtained by stealing them from people’s dreams via extraction and spinning it on its head, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s master extractor Cobb and his team – Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao, are enlisted for one last job, to plant an idea in Cillian Murphy’s dream by business rival Ken Watanabe. By using this world of dreams, Nolan has released literally all limitations as to where the plot can go, and opened up the door for some thoroughly original set pieces, the standout of which is Gordon Levitt’s taciturn Arthur fighting armed goons in a corridor with an ever-changing, and disappearing, centre of gravity. This, combined with a rain-lashed chase through busy city streets and a Bond-inspired snowbound explosive finale adds up to one of the most thought provoking action movies in recent years.

The plot is sometimes lost amid the spectacle of the dream worlds and the new logic required to understand it – in a dream, time travels 12 times slower with each level you go down, your subconscious can flare up against you but you can bend the environment around your will – so at times you forget just what they are fighting to achieve. Nolan also appears to have paid attention to the naysayer accusers who believe, not unfairly, that his films lack a required heart and emotional depth, as the addition of Cobb’s deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) appears in his subconscious, eager to turn the dream worlds against him, and the entire plot takes place just so Cobb can be reunited with his kids. Both these points seem tacked on and superfluous to the overall plot, other than adding a motive and antagonist that, although not asked for, do not overly deter.

Under close scrutiny some of the dream logic is inconsistent and doesn’t quite hold up, with some questions remaining unanswered – how exactly does Tom Hardy’s scene-stealing Eames transform into other people as the teams forger? – but the performance, cast (also including Michael Caine, Tom Berenger and Pete Postlethwaite), effects and sheer scale of the project make this unmissable, and my best film of 2010, although it makes my dreams look utterly pathetic in comparison.

Choose film 9/10

Titanic

Now bear with me here, but I do actually really like Titanic. This may all stem from a fascination with the tragedy as a child, but its also in part due to James Cameron’s direction of a film too easily written off as a soppy romance that just happens to be set aboard the most famous nautical disaster of all time, other than Speed 2: Cruise Control. What Cameron does is take 1958s A Night to Remember, the foremost Titanic film pre-1997, and add characters you genuinely care about; DiCaprio’s steerage class ragamuffin and Winslet’s pressured poor little rich girl, as well as a sense of spectacle unavailable to film makers in the pre-CGI movie making era. There is a clear divide in the film – and eventually in the ship too – around the half way mark, once the inevitable iceberg has viciously assaulted the great ship and departed without exchanging insurance details, where the gender that the film panders to switches. Initially, the tale of an across-the-tracks romance between the leads and comparisons of their expertly realised respective classes, culminating in a steamy encounter in a car in storage is squarely aimed at the female half of the audience, but as soon as the Atlantic ocean decides it wants to come aboard and everything starts taking place on an ever increasing incline, the ensuing carnage, death and destruction should appeal to any man with a penchant for disaster movies.
Weaving fact (Kathy Bates’ ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown) with fiction (Apparently one reason the iceberg wasn’t spotted until it was too late was due to Jack and Rose sharing a passionate snog on deck) it isn’t difficult to understand why this was the Biggest Film of All Time™ until Jimbo’s latest azure-tinged epic.
Negative points? At 3 hours it’s a bit of a trek, and the multiple villains (there’s at least four, not counting the iceberg) are all a bit too one-note to be believable, even though one, Jonathan Hyde’s weaselly marketing man Bruce Ismay, is based on a real person. There are also a few too many shout-at-the –screen moments of stupidity on behalf of the leads escape attempts – surely Rose would have realised Jack would have a better chance of survival on his own, if she has got on a lifeboat. That being said, there isn’t enough to detract from the quality of the film, with the characters and story never being overshadowed by the stellar effects work.
Choose film 8/10