The Revenant is not just an outstanding film; it is an experience, an ordeal that has to be seen on the biggest possible screen to be believed.
Based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name, the film is inspired by the supposedly true experiences of the early frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass. Whether or not the shocking events we see on screen actually did take place is up for debate, and is most likely more the stuff of myth, rather than truth.
Directed by Mexican maestro Alejandro González Iñárritu, the film follows the gruesome tale of a group of hunters and fur trappers in early 19th century South Dakota. After being brutally mauled by a grizzly bear, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is left for dead by fellow hunters Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Bridger (Will Poulter). Glass miraculously escapes his shallow grave however and slowly makes his way back to civilization to reap revenge on his betraying compatriots.
For a third year in a row, it looks a dead certainty that Emmanuel Lubezki will win the Oscar for his cinematography (he previously won it for Birdman, and Gravity). The Revenant is absolutely beautiful, time and time again you find yourself in a state of shock and awe, completely taken aback at the stunning photography on show and some scenes even recalled a snow and blood splattered ‘Deliverance’. It truly is postcard imagery as the camera lingers on dazzling snow-capped peaks and endless forests and streams glistening in the sunlight (Iñárritu made sure filming only ever took place in natural light, perhaps one of the main reasons as to why the now infamous shooting process was a “living hell” for some crew members).
Director Iñárritu received a lot of acclaim and admiration for his constantly moving camera in Birdman, and this technique is at play again here, in The Revenant. The camera seamlessly glides and rotates between characters seemingly without any editing at all at times. The opening sequence is a perfect example of this; it recalls the opening to Saving Private Ryan in terms of sheer ‘epicness’ as The Americans stave off an attack from horseback Indians equipped with arrows and axes. But Iñárritu’s camerawork elevates it to a new level, the camera effortlessly glides through the destruction, following each death and placing us firmly in the middle of the action. It is a brutal yet stunning opening sequence containing some of the best long-takes since Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
Alongside all of the masterful filming is an array of outstanding performances. Tom Hardy is menacingly brilliant as the sinister and murderous Fitzgerald; he brought to mind a frozen solid Jack Torrance (The Shining) in the film’s final showdown. Domnhall Gleeson and Will Poulter equally excel in their roles as Henry, and Bridger respectively. The fact that the majority of the supporting cast is British is certainly a huge testament to the leaps and bounds that British actors have come in the last few years, seriously making a big impression in Hollywood, which is certainly a joy to see.
Then, there is DiCaprio, if he does not win the Oscar this year, then it truly would be a travesty. In previous years when he has been nominated but not won, I firmly believe that someone has justly won it in his place, but this year, his competition is nowhere near as strong, and DiCaprio has put in a performance that will go down in history. It’s a physical performance, rather than a dialogue-heavy one; he must only have a handful of lines in the entire film. Accompanied by grunts and moans, he crawls through mud and snow, dragging his lifeless body along, he eats raw fish and bison liver when he has perfectly good cooking utensils behind him, and even more than that, he carves out a horse’s insides and spends a night inside the remaining carcass to keep warm. It is one of the most astounding performances I have ever seen, DiCaprio is entirely believable in taking himself to the brink and back again, and the Oscar is the least he deserves.
The Revenant is not just a film; it’s an experience, an ordeal, an endurance test, like Glass’s own personal journey of survival and redemption. It’s a bleak story, one that is difficult to watch at the best of times, and literally has you leaving the cinema speechless, struggling to comprehend what you have just witnessed. It strips its characters and its audience to the bare bones through its primal and almost prehistoric at times, tale of survival. The Revenant is merciless and beautiful in equal measure, and it is storytelling at its very best.
[rating=5] | Josh Hall
Thriller, Drama | USA, 2016 | 15 | 20th Century Fox Pictures | 6th June 2016 (UK) Dir.Alejandro González Iñárritu | Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck, Lukas Haas