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DVD Review by Diane McCurdy - Damon and DiCaprio


DVD Reviews by Diane McCurdy
Damon and DiCaprio

By Diane McCurdy

The two films that were selected to be honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press at the Golden Globe Awards were The Revenant and The Martian. The Revenant was honored as best drama and The Martian was honored as best comedy. The director of The Martian, Ridley Scott, in accepting the prize scoffed at the idea that his film was a comedy although it actually does contain some gallows-type humor. The point is in the best Shakespearean tradition if a piece ends tragically, it is a tragedy. If all ends well, it is a comedy. The Martian ends well, The Revenant, not so much.

I drew a Venn diagram to illustrate how these seemingly disparate works actually overlap. To begin with, they both have a dominant theme of man vs. nature. They have singular titles – their subject matter derived from respected novels. The heroes of both are resilient, resourceful and relentless in the pursuit of their individual goals. The two stories take place in the grand expanses of nature, both extremely harsh in extremely different ways. Both men are gravely injured but the astronaut has access to antibiotics whereas in the 1820’s, the frontiersman must depend on the traditional ministrations of a wandering Native American. Both films are helmed by A-list directors, Scott who gave us Alien and Thelma and Louise and Alejandro Inarritu who last year won the Oscar for Birdman. Both featured A-list actors, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The term Revenant has sent many to their dictionaries. Folkloric in origin, it is corpse that has been resurrected and has come back to haunt the living, basically a ghost. Hugh Glass is the revenant. His grueling Odyssey was inspired by actual events. DiCaprio received a Golden Globe for his efforts. He deserved a medal, at least, for what he had to go through from eating raw liver to being submerged for hours in icy water and snow. The film itself was fraught with so many obstacles that it was compared to the legendarily troubled Apocalypse Now production. Mostly shot in Canada, the location for some sections was Argentina as the company desperately chased after snow. The landscape reflects a terrible, pristine beauty. Cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, who won awards for Gravity and Birdman, uses all natural light which adds a realistic element. Kleig lights distance audiences with an artificial Hollywoodish veneer.

Hugh Glass, the main character, in this frontier drama signs on to guide a group of fur traders through the rugged Great Plains. It is the early 1800’s. While reconnoitering he encounters a mother bear whose maternal instincts rise to protect her cubs. She mauls Glass and he is left mortally wounded. He is carried for awhile and when it becomes obvious that his death is imminent, two traders and his half-breed son are delegated to stay behind to give him a decent burial. Thomas Hardy, one of the cowboys tending Glass had always had a grudge against him so he decides to hasten the death process. When Glass’ son tries to intercede Hardy kills the kid and dumps the half-dead Glass in a shallow grave. Miraculously he survives and bloody, beaten, with fetid infected sores and icicles dangling from his beard he begins his brutal via dolorosa as he seeks revenge. In this case, served very cold.

In The Martian Matt Damon also gives a tour de force performance that was also rewarded with a Golden Globe. Portraying the stranded spaceman was perfect casting as Damon projects an Everyman quality. He too has been left behind, accidentally and reluctantly. After a particularly violent solar storm his crew, which had been exploring Mars, makes an emergency evacuation. He is lost, wounded and presumed dead. Although his situation is dire, this film never projects the grittiness of the previous one. The best part of his sojourn on the red planet are examples of his Robinson Crusoe ingenuity. Trained as a botanist he must create a viable atmosphere that will provide water, food and oxygen. Finally making contact with Earth, there is a whole passel of people to cheer him on. This film is loaded with supporting players: Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor. But like a one-man band the show belongs to Damon. Most movies about astronauts lapse into the genre of space operas, space Westerns or space monster horror. But this is sci/fi for a more sophisticated audience. It becomes a little over the top at the end when it imagines a sublime cooperation between antagonistic nations and its rah-rah flag waving patriotism is a little too blatant. But it is not an extravaganza of explosions and special effects. It deals with outer space and well as inner space, the psychological effects of coping with isolation. It was screened for NASA and for the crew on the International Space station.

The performances of Damon and DiCaprio have also been nominated for Oscars by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. Both men were charged with portraying men who were ingenious and determined, one in the past and one in the future. Both had to be relentless in their struggle to survive. The Academy, unlike the Globes, will only recognize one winner. Who will survive the Oscar race?