Tag Archives: Blood Meridian

The Revenant (2015)

It’s fitting that The Revenant pushes the limits of film, ceasing mercifully only just before breaking, because that’s exactly what happens to Hugh Glass. If you’re one of the people behind the film, crafting it, then you have to push the limit: you’re Alejandro Iñárritu or Emmanuel Lubezki, coming off the exquisite Birdman and arguably at the height of your career, seemingly happy to be shouldered with the weight of expectation or otherwise just left with no choice. If you’re one of the people in front of the film, watching it, you want it to push the limit: if you’re watching The Revenant in the first place, you’re likely quite certain that you’re in for a challenging watch and not a brain-switched-off actioner.

But if you’re one of the people inside the film, acting in it, living it, then being pushed to the limit means actually being pushed to the limit. Throughout 2015 stories of the extremely arduous on-location filming of Revenant trickled down from that remote region of Alberta, from the torrential rains of British Columbia, from the freezing southernmost tip of Argentina. Ten people quit or were fired during production. In July Hollywood Reporter ran an article about the brutal conditions on set, prompting more and more questions about the safety precautions and the direction of the film. Blurbs from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and the rest of the cast make The Revenant shoot sound more life-threatening than that of Apocalypse Now or Fitzcarraldo; Iñárritu himself has since taken to referring to the cast and crew as “survivors”.

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Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Beasts of No Nation lives in the space between realism and allegory. Uzodinma Iweala’s original novel approaches that space but seems far less concerned with it, narrated entirely by the young central character, Agu, in his simplistic present-tense dialect. A child soldier in West Africa, Agu’s journey in the novel is one of survival. His family is killed, and to avoid being killed himself he accepts an offer to join the army of the Commandant, a rebel warlord. At first he declares “I am not wanting to fight”; eventually, though, Agu is killing with knives and guns, willfully attacking “enemies”, tearing through his war-stricken country at the whim and call of the Commandant.

Everything about the novel is heartbreaking, but nothing more so than the sense that Agu is too young to realize that his journey across his country is also a descent into hell. The first-person narration is one that nonetheless conveys the bare minimum about Agu’s own thoughts and feelings about his actions, and yet at times it conveys more than enough. “I am liking it” — this is what Agu says about the sound of his knife hitting a woman’s head, about the splashing blood. It’s brutal in how direct it all is, in its impossibility and in its plausibility. Iweala never has to name the West African country or convince us that someone like Agu really exists; Agu very definitely does.

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Joe (2013)

There’s a movie called Bob and the Trees that premiered at Sundance last month. It’s about a guy named Bob, and it’s about some trees. Bob’s a logger in rural Massachusetts, and when winter sets in he starts encountering problems. The premise alone isn’t particularly exciting, so Bob and the Trees draws compelling cinema from another source: the fact that Bob is played by a logger named Bob, and Bob the character is very much a version of Bob the logger. It’s fiction, of course, but it’s also true (“nonfiction” doesn’t seem like the right word). The characters are reading a script, but they’re more or less reading it as themselves. It makes Bob and the Trees into a kind of hybrid that looks and feels — again, for lack of a better word — real.

David Gordon Green’s Joe isn’t exactly that. It’s not a true documentary, not docudrama, not cinéma vérité, not kino-pravda (“film-truth”), and not even as factual as Bob and the Trees. But damn if it isn’t close, and damn if it isn’t Green’s most balanced and lifelike film since his 2001 debut George Washington.

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Walker (1987)

William Walker was a freewheeling filibuster of a distinct class. Alex Cox’s biopic Walker – branded A TRUE STORY at the outset – features Ed Harris in the title role of the American adventurer whose ideals and morals become muddled. Journeying to Nicaragua in the 1850s, Walker and his band have democracy as their glorious intention. What happens, of course, is something else entirely, and Walker comes to resemble more of a tyrant than anything else.

First, though – wait, was that a helicopter? And a computer? Isn’t this 1850? It becomes increasingly clear throughout Walker that Cox has little regard for historical accuracy, and blatant anachronisms like Walker on the cover of Time and Newsweek pop up all over the place. Cox’s sense of humor is very often visual, as seen again and again in the visual gags running through his first feature Repo Man, and in Walker the intentional inaccuracies certainly do provide laughs. But they have a point, too, and that’s to draw a parallel between Walker’s crazed methods in Nicaragua in the 1850s and American efforts in Latin and South America in the late 1980s.

Whether you enjoy this political narrative bent or not is probably dependent on your own political views. Walker didn’t fare well at the box office upon release in 1987, and Cox never returned to studio filmmaking again. While it doesn’t necessarily come across as heavy-handed, the comparison and damnation of American foreign policy is poured on pretty thick.

Rudy Wurlitzer writes William Walker beautifully, though, and the contrast from Walker to each man in Walker’s miscreant band of somehow-loyal followers is also well done. Straight off the bat the gang – for they certainly could be called no more than a gang – are shown to be unable to even comprehend Walker’s orders that violence should stop and common laws of hygiene be adhered to. “What’s hygiene?” one man asks just before the gang erupt into a murdering spree in the middle of a village. There’s some of the Glanton Gang from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian in here, making Ed Harris’s Walker the indomitable Judge Holden, the terrifying hawker of war and death.

Soon, though the men latch onto Walker’s lofty ideals more as an excuse for violence than anything else, the “true north” of Walker’s vision begins to stray. “Some of the men are confused as to just what it is we’re fighting for,” one man confides in him. “I know and they know that the liberals are our friends and the conservatives are our enemies…but to tell you the truth, sir, I can’t tell them apart. They all seem the same to me.”

“That is no concern of yours, nor of the men,” Walker advises. “All you have to remember is that our cause is a righteous one.” Later, Walker dictates to another man trodding in his footsteps that the ends justify the means. The man tiptoes after Walker as the landscape around them seems drier and drier. “What are the ends?” he asks, to which Walker immediately replies, “I can’t remember.”

So again, the political aspect will either heighten your appreciation of Walker or it very well may sour it, depending on whether you find Cox to be earnest or overbearing in the depth of his unsubtle satire. I submit that the character of William Walker alone, shorn of all the directorial “slight of hand” on Cox’s part, is one that can’t be ignored.  “Clearly,” as another character remarks, “this is no ordinary asshole.”