Tag Archives: 19th century

The extremes Leonardo DiCaprio went to for ‘The Revenant’

Alejandro G. Inarritu knew Leonardo DiCaprio would go to the ends of the earth to make the 19th century survival epic “The Revenant” exactly as the famously meticulous director wanted.

For Inarritu, DiCaprio was the best person to play Hugh Glass, a real life fur trapper who survived a bear mauling and then went to find his mates who left him for dead in the unforgiving wilderness. Over the course of the nearly yearlong production, the Oscar-nominated actor and environmentalist proved his commitment over and over. He ate raw bison. He stripped naked in sub-zero temperatures. He even jumped into an icy river. But, early on, Inarritu had one very specific worry: Could DiCaprio grow a beard?

“You cannot shoot this film with a fake beard. It would look terrible,” Inarritu said in a recent interview. “Not every man grows so much hair in his face. That was a bet.”

Thankfully for the director, DiCaprio sprouted a gnarly, unruly beard that becomes a symbol of where exactly his character is on his journey, and how deeply he’s devolved. Makeup added dirt on a daily basis, and a combination of glycerin and grit gave his hair that unwashed, bloody look – the look of someone who’d survived a bear attack.

It’s a minor thing, and perhaps the easiest test DiCaprio had to endure to make the sprawling epic, but it’s one of those details that illustrate the overall production’s commitment to authenticity.

“It’s a really primal story of man and the natural world,” said DiCaprio in a recent phone interview. “It’s almost biblical.”

In an era of computer generated imagery and other post-production fixes, this was an unconventional shoot from the outset. Inarritu traveled with his crew to Calgary, Alberta and then to Argentina when the Canadian snow melted earlier than expected. As if shooting on location isn’t hard enough, he and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki also opted to shoot only in natural light, giving the production a mere 90 minutes a day to achieve complex, highly choreographed long takes. The duo had done this before in “Birdman,” but never in the unpredictable wilderness.

But DiCaprio knew very well what he was signing up for.

“When you’re out in the elements like this – and there are people who have much harder jobs than people making a movie – but you just appreciate the endurance of man and how we’re able to adapt to circumstances,” DiCaprio said. “You’re signing on to find elements that will ultimately transform the narrative and find the poetry. … It was all basically us really putting ourselves in this environment and seeing what happens.”

Partly by nature of the story and partly for the sake of his character, DiCaprio largely isolated himself from the rest of the cast, including his friend Tom Hardy.

He studied the life of Hugh Glass and the lives of fur trappers at the time. He learned and practiced the choreography for the shots, too. But when it came time for the cameras to roll, everything became very animalistic – a largely silent performance rooted in instinct and reaction.

“For me it was about really thinking these thoughts and really trying to feel this man’s pain,” DiCaprio said.

“Leo thinks like a filmmaker more than an actor,” Inarritu said. “He understands the whole. He was able to be not only a machine doing exactly what we agreed in a natural way but at the same time be absolutely present to react to any improvisation. That’s when I felt that this is one of the greatest actors.”

Little remains of DiCaprio’s full mountain man transformation externally. Production wrapped. He shed the beard. The bumps and bruises healed. But the grit of the shoot, the trials and tribulations, the tension of getting that perfect shot, it’s all left on the screen – particularly in the bear attack.

“I think it will go down in history as one of the most voyeuristic action sequences ever created,” DiCaprio said. “You feel the blood and the sweat. You almost smell the bear. It accomplishes what movies do at their best which is to really make you feel like the rest of the world has evaporated and you’re singularly in that moment.”

Inarritu wants to keep the specifics of how exactly he achieved such a harrowing sequence to himself. Revealing the process would destroy the magic of it all, he said.

“I wanted for people (to) feel the cold, smell the fear,” he said. “It was difficult but that’s what we were supposed to do. Nobody should care. Nobody should be bothered with having a good time or not. That’s not the purpose of doing a film.”

“Judging by the results I would not change a bit.” 

Hooper’s ‘Les Miserables’ is relentless

Tom Hooper’s extravaganza – big-screen telling of the beloved musical “Les Miserables” – is as relentlessly driven as the ruthless Inspector Javert himself. It simply will not let up until you’ve Felt Something – powerfully and repeatedly – until you’ve touched the grime and smelled the squalor and cried a few tears of your own.

It is enormous and sprawling and not the slightest bit subtle.

At the same time, it’s hard not to admire the ambition that drives such an approach, as well as Hooper’s efforts to combine a rousing, old-fashioned musical tale with contemporary and immediate aesthetics. There’s a lot of hand-held camerawork here, a lot of rushing and swooping through the crowded, volatile slums of Victor Hugo’s 19th-century France.

Two years after the release of his inspiring, crowd-pleasing “The King’s Speech,” winner of four Academy Awards including best picture, Hooper has vastly expanded his scope but also jettisoned all remnants of restraint.

But he also does something clever in asking his actors to sing live on camera, rather than having them record their vocals in a booth somewhere as is the norm, and for shooting the big numbers in single takes. The intimacy can be uncomfortable at times and that closeness highlights self-indulgent tendencies, but the meaning behind lyrics which have become so well-known shines through anew. You’d probably heard “I Dreamed a Dream,” the plaintive ballad of the doomed prostitute Fantine, sung countless times even before Susan Boyle unfortunately popularized it again in 2009. An emaciated and shorn Anne Hathaway finds fresh pain and regret in those words because her rendition is choked with sobs, because it’s not perfect.

That’s definitely part of the fascination of this version of “Les Miserables”: seeing how these A-list stars handle the demands of near-constant singing. Hugh Jackman, as the hero and former prisoner Jean Valjean, is a musical theatre veteran and seems totally in command (although the higher part of his register gets a bit nasal and strained). Amanda Seyfried, as Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, whom Jean Valjean adopts, had already proven she can sing in “Mamma Mia!” but hits some freakishly high notes here – which isn’t always a good thing. Eddie Redmayne is a lovely surprise as the love-struck revolutionary Marius. And of course, Samantha Barks gives an effortless performance as the lonely and doomed Eponine – everyone here is doomed, it’s “Les Miserables” – a role she’d performed on the London stage.

And then there’s Russell Crowe as the obsessed lawman Javert, who has pursued Jean Valjean for decades for breaking his parole and insists he’s still a dangerous man, despite the pious and prosperous life Valjean has forged. Although Crowe has sung in rock bands for years, he’s vocally overmatched here, which strips the character of the menace that defines him. Seeing him sing opposite Jackman makes you wish you could watch these same actors having these same conversations with, like, actual words. But again, it’s hard not to appreciate the effort, the risk it required to take on the role.

For the uninitiated, Javert hunts for Valjean against the backdrop of the Paris Uprising of 1832. Adorable street urchins, sassy prostitutes and virile subversives band together to build barricades, and to sing on top of them, until they are gunned down by French troops. The adorably smitten Cosette and Marius wonder whether they’ll ever see each other again. Thieving innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, garishly over-the-top even by the characters’ standards) wonder when their next unsuspecting victim will come along. And Jean Valjean wonders whether he’ll ever truly be free.

How you feel walking out of this film two and a half hours later will depend a great deal on what you brought into it going in. Maybe you listened to the soundtrack fanatically in high school and still know all the words to “On My Own.” Perhaps you were thrilled to see the show on stage during a vacation to New York (and there’s a nice little cameo from Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean from the London and Broadway productions). You will probably be in far better shape than someone coming into this cold.

You may even cry when key characters die, even though you know full well what fate awaits them. There’s no shame in that – we’re all friends here.

On the Web…

http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com