Is Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant the Best Actor?

Posted: January 12, 2016 in Drama, Reviews, Western
Tags: , , , , ,

The RevenantIs Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant the best actor?

It would seem, for the moment, that question has been answered by the Hollywood Foreign Press, which bestowed the Best Actor award (or more precisely, the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama award) to DiCaprio at the recent Golden Globes. The win was expected. Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Bryant Cranston (Trumbo) were seen in films seen by far too few. Will Smith’s turn in Concussion generated next to no buzz. That left Eddie Remayne in The Danish Girl, work that was too soon since his last win for The Theory of Everything and too far out of the mainstream for some.

So, if the matter is settled until the Oscar nominations are announced, let’s tinker with the initial query.

In The Revenant, is Leonardo DiCaprio the best actor?

Now that is a very different question.

Tom Hardy as the pragmatic, dishonorable, cowardly, resourceful John Fitzgerald carries the film for long stretches. While DiCaprio spends an interminable amount of time crawling and grunting, Hardy is threatening, flattering, and cajoling his way toward the exact same goal: survival. Fitzgerald is a son of a bitch in the tradition of great Western villains, but Hardy’s portrayal of this no-good bastard is too nuanced to allow a summary dismissal of the character as “typical bad guy.”

It’s no knock on Leo. Hey, The Revenant is a star vehicle, and DiCaprio is driving the bus. He’s the one eating uncooked buffalo organs and biting the heads off of fish, after being mauled by a bear and before stripping naked and slipping into a horse carcass. (Watch that scene and then tell me you’re not expecting Harrison Ford to pop up and say, “I thought they smelled bad on the outside.”) Except, Academy voters, he’s not really doing any of those things.

In fact, it’s no certainty that the individual that the movie is based on actually did those things. The “true” part of the “based on a true story” has been significantly diluted to avoid any criticism that has befallen recent biopics. The Revenant is based in part on a novel by Michael Punke that is based in part on Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who survived a bear attack and subsequent abandonment by his colleagues.

DiCaprio is likely to capture the Oscar unless a backlash evolves similar to the one that took Michael Keaton down for Birdman after the Globes, but it’s doubtful that the same misfortune will strike Leo. He has gone from accepted to respected in recent years, and if he remains a notch or so below the status of beloved, he has the good fortune to be nominated in a year in which there is no sentimental favorite. Matt Damon in The Martian might be his only real competition, but the studio may well have doomed him and the movie by nominating both in the comedy categories of the Golden Globes in a shameless attempt to garner awards.

As for the other two categories in which The Revenant won Globes, Best Director and Best Film, one is far more certain to be repeated than the other. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s work is astonishing. He elevates the story and the performances from genre to art. Yes, at times, it goes from art to artsy, and the ending is way too cute and convenient, but DiCaprio’s performance – and Hardy’s too – is a direct result of Iñárritu’s brilliance.

Best Film is a bit dicier as the grim subject matter and hard R-rated level of violence may work against it when it comes time for Oscar consideration. It’s unclear what film will serve as the greatest threat to its shot at the top.

What has been missing in the awards talk until now and what can still be corrected before the Academy Awards is a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Hardy. If The Revenant sweeps the Oscars, he should be sharing the stage along with DiCaprio and Iñárritu.

  1. Love your writing, will be back for more for sure!

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