A Defeat for Dialogue

When I began this blog I insisted that I would never go more than five days without writing new material. Unfortunately it has not taken long for me to break that promise, which in fairness is due to an extremely busy week where a mounting pile of other writing commitments and social events has tied me up to the extent that I feel almost brain dead.

In the time since my last post, the Academy Awards have been handed out in Hollywood in a ceremony full of the usual glitz and glamour, but with the spectre of controversy hanging over it due to the appalling lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. The presence of Chris Rock as host was ironic in the circumstances, but he did a fine job of handling the furore, and making light of it in his own comedic manner.

Away from this murky subject, the other main topic of conversation was on whether Leonardo DiCaprio would finally win the award for Best Actor, having been overlooked on countless occasions in years gone by. Hotly tipped to succeed, he wasn’t disappointed as his role as the spirited, vengeful survivor Hugh Glass in The Revenant brought him the ultimate reward.

Set in the 19th century and partly based on a book by Michael Punke, The Revenant tells the story of the frontiersman Glass, who is mauled almost to death by a bear and is left fighting to survive, forced to feed on scattered pieces of animal flesh as he looks to avenge the death of his son, who is mercilessly killed by disagreeable colleague Fitzgerald.

When his comrades eventually discover that he is still alive – contrary to what they were told by Fitzgerald – they bring Glass back to base, before he eventually goes out to hunt Fitzgerald down, winning their subsequently gory fight to the death.

It was a movie that received widespread attention, as well as the most nominations at the awards ceremony. Of the three that it won, two of them were massively deserved. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski delivered the most beautiful picture that I have ever had the pleasure of watching, while director Alejandro G. Inarritu performed a minor miracle by succeeding in bringing us what was a hugely ambitious project while delivering some excellent shots.

But did DiCaprio deserve his award? I have mixed feelings on this. He is a very good actor and certainly does nothing wrong in the film, but does he do enough to have earned the Academy Award for best actor? Not if you make your decision based on dialogue and how much gravitas it provides.

This is because Hugh Glass does not have many lines in the film whatsoever. His role is primarily a physical one, carrying it along, the person who the audience latches on to and follows his determined journey to survival. DiCaprio conveys the anguish of Glass at the loss of his son and the injuries he suffers at the claws of the bear, going through his own battle with the natural world as he went along. After all, filming this epic was an ordeal for every member of the cast and crew.

I am really pleased for DiCaprio and have enormous respect for him, but for me dialogue is essential to any film role and more emphasis should have been placed on it when voting for a winner. He made Hugh Glass an iconic character just by being him, maybe that’s what won it for him.

And as a closing remark, this award very much reflects the words uttered by the late, great Alan Rickman, whose passing earlier this year is still a real source of personal sadness. He once said the following: ‘Parts win prizes, not actors’.

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