Not being a “proper” journalist means there are no free tickets, no advance copies of programmes, no private screenings, so the opportunities to get ahead of the pack are rare indeed. The good people at Odeon have a cunning marketing ploy for getting bums on seats on an otherwise deathly Monday evening. If you haven’t heard about it it’s called Screen Unseen – you pay a mere five euro, sit down and wait, and only know what you are getting when the censorship rating certificate appears in front of you. Through this I am able to look at two films not yet on general release – Room and Revenant. They are going to appear at roughly the same time, so which if any should you go and see.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers, so here goes at a quick summary.
Room is set in modern day suburban America. It revolves around a young lady and her child living in one room – permanently locked in with no chance of escape. Their history and their situation is gradually revealed. Then the story moves on, and that is all I will say to live up to my “no spoilers” promise. If you have not seen the trailer or read the book… don’t! Because the key piece of the narrative will be so much more satisfying.
Revenant is set in 1820’s frontier America. It revolves around a party of trappers battling to reach relative civilisation against all that nature and man can throw at them. In particular it focuses on one man and his son. Again, avoiding the trailer and the book will help to keep the twists and turns of the narrative fresher and, to repeat myself, more satisfying.
So both are from books, both revolve around one main character and their intense struggles. The similarities don’t end there. Both are aiming at high levels of authenticity, and are filmed in such a way to be deeply immersive – the filmmakers want us there in the action and living with the characters rather than distantly and dispassionately observing.
Both rely on the central performance. Leonardo DiCaprio in Revenant has the intensity set off the scale. Never mind turning the amp to 11, he has gone to 14. The film throws everything at him and he brings us along every painful step of the way. In some ways it is an immense performance (potentially Oscar winning), but it lacks shading. It is a juggernaut of a role and of a film, unremittingly bleak. Any humour, and there is precious little, is black. Being historical, there is no way we can truly put ourselves into this world, but if it is an accurate reflection I thank the lord I did not have to live through it.
Bree Larsson inhabits a world familiar to us. Indeed the familiarity is essential in balancing the extreme nature of her situation, incarcerated in the Room. She has to reveal flaws and troubles to keep this truly human, and she does. Not for her, though, is the glowering intensity route to a compelling character. It is an authentic and at times mundane (as real life truly is) route to the end. Ultimately, this may be less likely to win her the Oscar, but is for me a better demonstration of acting skill.
Should you go to see these films… depends what you want.
If you are looking for a bit of uplifting escapism, go see Star Wars. If you want a date movie, then look elsewhere (even if you want something a bit challenging with an edgy topic, The Danish Girl is much safer “Date night” territory).
If you want to see a piece of adventurous and interesting film making, then both are going to satisfy in different ways. Revenant is perhaps more startling, but for me is going to be a once in a lifetime watch. Room is more ordinary, but is a film that I would be happy to watch again.
I recommend you go to see Revenant at the cinema (but don’t take your mother); Room you can see at the cinema, but will satisfy equally in the comfort of your own home when the DVD arrives.