The best of what’s hitting Irish cinemas this week.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant (16s), which is based on the novel by Michael Punke (and the true events it inspired).
Glass, a frontiersman in the American West of the 1820s, is left for dead by his fellow fur trappers — one of whom murders Glass’s son — when he is mauled by a grizzly bear. What follows is an occasionally harrowing testament to human fortitude as the horribly wounded Glass sets out for civilisation, hundreds of miles away.
The heavily bearded DiCaprio has very little to say in The Revenant — mountain man Hugh Glass isn’t a man given to unnecessarily prolix speeches even before he’s attacked by a bear — but he gives a powerful performance of physical intensity.
In one sense he manifests the harshly beautiful world cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki so wonderfully captures; even before Glass symbolically dons the bearskin torn from the dead bear, it seems as if he has been carved whole from the brutal and merciless landscape.
The tone is set from the very beginning, when Glass’s hunting party is ambushed by hostile Arikara natives in a jaw-dropping sequence that deploys vicious violence in a dispassionate way in order to convey the intrinsic cruelty of, as Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) describes it, ‘the edge of the world’.
The Revenant is by no means a one-man show, but while DiCaprio does receive strong support from Gleeson, Tom Hardy and Will Poulter (the latter pair playing the men who abandoned Glass in the wilderness), he does shoulder the storytelling burden, and covers himself in glory (the stinking bearskin notwithstanding) in the process.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, and adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own best-selling novel, Room (15A) stars Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as her young son Jack. Ma and Jack have an unusually close mother-son relationship, given that Jack was born in the room where he has lived all of his life — indeed, so confined is Jack’s life that he has no way of processing the idea that there is a world beyond ‘room’.
As the story progresses, we learn that ‘Ma’ was abducted some years previously and has been held captive in the room ever since; but while the story flirts with elements of a very modern gothic horror, it’s the relationship between the central pairing that proves most captivating.
Brie Larson won the Golden Globe for Best Actress earlier this week, and she gives an astonishing performance of a woman pushed past her limits of endurance, yet still struggling to normalise her circumstances for the sake of her child.
Even so, young Jacob Tremblay puts in an even better performance, and one that belies his tender years: it’s an entirely unaffected turn, and one that allows you believe you are watching Jack in his natural element (the fact that this innocence is the tragedy of Jack’s life only enhances the depth of his performance).
Abrahamson is in superb form here, expertly capturing the claustrophobia of the small room as the seasons pass by via the single skylight in the roof, and while the latter stages lack the intensity of the movie’s first half, Room is nevertheless a gripping character study of grace under pressure.
Sylvester Stallone reprises his iconic role as Rocky Balboa in Creed (12A), although here Rocky retreats to the corner in order to train young Donny Johnson, aka Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan), the son of his most famous foe, Apollo Creed.
It’s both a reworking and an inversion of the rags-to-riches tale in the original Rocky (1976), in that Donny rejects a wealthy background in order to become a penniless fighter, although what both films have in common is that the young pugilist is stepping into the ring to prove himself to the world (watch out for the stunningly filmed one-take bout in the middle of the movie).
Set for the most part in Philadelphia, where Rocky now runs a restaurant named for his late wife Adrian, Creed reprises some scenes from Rocky for comic effect (Donny chases chickens to improve his speed), although others are touched upon for more serious purposes, as Stallone not only lays to rest the ghost of the Rocky character but quietly demythologises him too.
Jordan puts in a strong performance as the brash, arrogant young man who has to learn to control his scrapper’s instincts, but despite his co-starring role the film belongs very much to Stallone, and the veteran gives a master-class in understated poignancy, the gravelly voice offering pearls of wisdom to young Donny — Rocky’s personal creed, if you will — that resonate far beyond the confines of the boxing ring.
The Revenant *****
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved