It’s been fascinating to watch Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu carve a very particular style of his own as his career has progressed, despite working in such a broad range of genres. His hallmarks are very apparent – ensemble casts and overlapping narratives (particularly his first three films, Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel), intensely focused performances (all three above plus Biutiful and Birdman) and a commitment to bold, long-take cinematography that brings out the best of those elements. These all coalesce beautifully with his latest film, and when his collaborators are on such fine form it makes for another pretty extraordinary cinematic experience.

The visual panache employed by director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki is quite simply some of the finest work being done in the field today. His grasp of aesthetics, colour and light has always been striking (his 90s work on the likes of A Little Princess and Sleepy Hollow remains stunning), but in recent years he’s taken great strides into technically dazzling virtuoso camerawork. Starting with his work with another Mexican compatriot Alfonso Cuaron on Children of Men and Gravity, he seems to be trying to push the boundaries of what is literally possibly with complicated unbroken shots, perhaps culminating in Birdman last year. He’s a master of the craft at the top of his game, and mounts several sequences in this film that defy belief in their complexity and craft.

Another artist whose work is impossible to ignore here is lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. His career is already replete with hugely impressive moments, but this is probably the apotheosis of his development as a performer. Boundaries are pushed here also – his raw, ferocious commitment to the role has been much-discussed and is hugely impressive, but there is some astonishing strength in his moments of stillness. It’s a masterclass in screen performance, something DiCaprio has been building inexorably towards for years. So while the film itself meanders in a few mundane ways – the story is far too slight to carry its running time, and there’s an odd lack of focus throughout – there are simply too many people doing some of the best work of their (or anybody’s) career here to be distracted or disappointed.

A brutal, viscerally-filmed depiction of raw survival9
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is possibly the most interesting and innovative director working in Hollywood9
Emmanuel Lubezki is undoubtedly the best cinematographer working in Hollywood10
Leonardo DiCaprio turns in his best performance of a glittering career10
A somewhat unfocused, overlong structure with an underwritten screenplay6
Bechdel Test Passes
  • n/a
Bechdel Test Failures
  • Only features one named female character
9Overall Score

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