Director Alejandro G. Inarritu is having quite the year. Last February, his critically acclaimed drama Birdman won a number of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Now his latest movie, The Revenant, has become the most Oscar nominated film of the year, already having won the Golden Globes for Best Drama, Director and Lead Actor. Will The Revenant live up to Birdman‘s success? But more than anything, will this be the role that will finally land Leonardo DiCaprio his first Best Actor Oscar?
Taking place in early 19th Century America, The Revenant follows a group of fur trappers who have suffered heavy casualties after a Native American attack. Hugh Glass, a member of the trappers, gets brutally mauled by a black bear soon after, leaving him on the brink of death. Not wanting Glass to die alone, the group’s leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), assigns three men, including Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a young man named Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and the merciless John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), to stay behind and watch over Glass as he dies. Fitzgerald eager to leave, ends up killing Glass’ son, and trick Bridger into leaving Glass to die alone. However, the injured man is not as dead as the others might think, and begins an arduous journey across the American wilderness, braving the rigorous environment, dangerous wildlife and the ever-present French and Native forces in order to take revenge on the man who wronged him.
Brutal, draining and visceral, these are the perfect words to describe The Revenant. From the absolutely chaotic battle in the movie’s first scene, to the nail-biting conclusion, The Revenant throws you into this violent world, and gets you right up close to the action. Every single time a character gets wounded, you feel it, whenever the sound of an arrow whistling through the air is heard, you duck and the noises made by dying men will chill you to the bone. This is not a movie for the faint of heart, and will even make people with even the strongest of constitutions feel a bit nauseated. Of course, the much talked about scene where Glass gets mauled by the bear is the hardest scene to watch, a harsh reminder of how cruel and unforgiving nature’s creatures can be.
There has been a lot of acclaim directed towards DiCaprio for his performance, and rightly so. Although DiCaprio says very little in the movie, it’s his physical acting that really impresses. For most of the film, he’s crawling through snow, trudging through ravines and climbing mountains, all while maintaining the appearance of a man who clearly has nothing left to lose, and one thing on his mind. DiCaprio’s heavy breathing, pained and haunted expressions as well as the sheer fact that he, as an actor, put himself trough this kind of difficult shoot, are all things to be admired. Aside from Leo, Tom Hardy (who is given most of the film’s dialogue) does exceedingly well as the movie’s villain John Fitzgerald. There’s a campfire scene where he’s talking to young Jim Bridger, and recounts to him a pretty horrifying story in a very calm and matter-of-fact way. It’s at that point where you realise just how much of a psychopath he is. In many ways, he is nothing more than a product of the cruel, harsh world that the film’s characters inhabit. He’s a guy who has spent a little too much time away from civilisations, and has become accustomed to cruelty.
Fair warning, The Revenant is a relatively slow movie, except of course for the few action scenes at the beginning and end, but it’s never boring. Clocking in at just over two and a half hours, there is easily a good hour worth of footage that could have been cut from the movie, but it’s those unnecessary scenes that add to the film’s atmosphere. Little things like a scene where DiCaprio and a fellow traveler he encounters catch snowflakes on their tongues, and the many, many landscape shots all contribute to the film’s portrait of life in 19th century America. I greatly appreciated the fact that the movie does not paint Native Americans as stereotypes or villains, instead it presents them as reasonable human beings who are simply tired of being treated as outsiders in their own land. There is an entire subplot involving a native tribe looking for one of their kidnapped women, and though it may seem unimportant at first, it comes back towards the end in a very important way.
As good as the actors are it is cinematographer Emannuel Lubezki who easily steals the show, as every single shot and frame of this film is gorgeous and masterfully filmed. All the various landscape shots in the movie look like beautiful paintings, and will have your jaw drop in awe. During the action/chase scenes, the camera swooshes through trees and stays very close to the action, giving such a good view of everything that happens that I wish every movie would be filmed like this from now on. Lubezki and Inarritu use the camera in many fascinating ways, sometimes to trick the audience and sometimes to put you in the perspective of the characters. There are very few edits as well; something not entirely surprising considering Inarritu’s last movie Birdman was famous for appearing as though it was filmed in a single shot. It is clear when watching The Revenant that you are witnessing a work of art, an incredibly violent and bleak work of art.
When you boil it down, The Revenant is a very simple revenge and survival story. But what makes it exceptional is the incredible attention to detail by the director, cinematographer and all the actors involved, who contributed in making a visceral experience that makes you feel like you’re right in the middle of the action. The Revenant is a rousing tribute to the human spirit, a severe reminder of the dangers of Mother Nature and is definitely deserving of being called one of the best movies of the year.
Final Grade 9.5/10