In a recent article that I contributed to for HC MovieReviews, we had ‘The Revenant’ placed at number two in a list of our most anticipated films of 2016. Compliment that with the fact that early reviews from across the pond were full of praise for Iñárritu’s latest film, DiCaprio’s Oscar-nomination worthy performance and the awards it picked up at the Golden Globe awards, and it’s fair to say that my expectations could not have been any higher. I was promised a breath-taking and completely immersive cinema experience and ‘The Revenant’ delivered on every single level that I could have possibly hoped.
Master trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo di Caprio) and his hunting troop, led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), are travelling across remote Northern America acquiring animal pelts on the front line of the 1820’s fur trade. After being ambushed by a group of Native Americans, the hunting party is forced inland, into the unforgiving wilderness, in an attempt to make it home alive with their precious cargo intact. Glass is their only hope of tracking their way back home, but he is viciously mauled in a savage bear attack, leaving him firmly at death’s door, so much so that he becomes a burden for the rest of the group. His son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and fellow trappers John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Bridger (Will Poulter) elect to stay behind with Glass to give him the burial that he deserves once he has passed, but honuorable intentions soon turn into the ultimate betrayal as Glass is left for dead to survive on his own in the harshest of environments, spurred on only by his desire for revenge.
Of course, all of the talk surrounding this film is about whether this will finally be DiCaprio’s time to pick up the elusive Best Actor award at the Oscars. I will go on record now and say that if he doesn’t win it for this emotionally packed, authentic and transformative performance then it will be the biggest injustice ever to have occurred. This is a very different DiCaprio to the one we have become so accustomed to. Here, he is crawling around inside dead horses, self-cauterizing his neck, ripping into rotten flesh and donning an out of control hair and beard combination, but somehow it feels completely real; like this is something Leo gets up to in his spare time between the various parties that he’s more renowned for, such is the level of his performance. We all know he is capable of incredible acting, but this performance is his best to date because it’s so different to anything we’ve seen before. This is far from a one-man show though. Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleesoon in particular are given more screen time than I anticipated and are very convincing for two relative novices. Tom Hardy is also stunning in his portrayal of Fitzgerald, earning him an Oscar nomination. He probably won’t win the award, but personally, I really hope he does. The culminating scene with DiCaprio and Hardy was one of the most intense and heart-stopping things I have witnessed, and both men should be recognised for their respective performances.
As good as the acting performances are though, the star of the show has to be Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (no, it’s not the bear). The director’s decision to shoot the film entirely in natural light proved inspired, as it captured nature at its most beautiful and most terrifying simultaneously. This is a film that encapsulates natural beauty alongside human brutality and you need look no further than the opening ten minutes to see clear evidence for this. The best looking shot of the entire film comes right at the beginning, as the camera pans upwards from the calm and therapeutic ripple of a shallow stream to a mesmerising, dense and brooding forest. Cut quickly to an ambush scene where the hunting troop are attacked by a group of Native Americans, as a panning shot captures first hand the level of brutality that humans are capable of. The panning shot was a recurring technique used and it works absolutely perfectly so that we can appreciate the majestic setting that this story of betrayal is set against. If I were to have any complaints about the film, I would say it was probably a little self-indulgent, but who can blame Iñárritu for wanting to linger over shots of vast mountainous ranges, beautiful skylines and spectacular rivers. One of the longest sequences was the now famous bear attack scene, formed by one continuous shot lasting several minutes, as we witness a truly brutal attack unfold before us. In fact, in my particular screening, a group of women got up and walked out during this scene, never to return, in what I assume was a reaction to the brutality on show. This is a film that is making no apologies whatsoever and there were several instances where the entire cinema erupted into a cacophony of dumbfounded gasps, but that’s what makes this film so good. It truly is a revolutionary piece of cinema, unlike anything I’ve seen before in every aspect.
I am surprised this film hasn’t been more divisive than it has. I counted a total of seven people leave their seats for good during the course of the film; testament to the fact that this film certainly won’t be for everyone. It is self-indulgent, it is gruesome, it is rather slow in places, but ‘The Revenant’ is a masterful work of art. I have never experienced an atmosphere quite like it when the credits began to roll. The whole cinema was in complete silence. Nobody was talking, nobody had their phones out, nobody even moved for about 30 seconds. Everybody was sat still in their seats trying to take in what they had just witnessed, utterly numbed and captivated by the stunningly intense experience that they had just been a part of. It’s not a film to enjoy necessarily, it’s a film to appreciate. It’s one of those films that you need to say that you’ve seen, because it will instantly become a classic. ‘The Revenant’ is up for a total of 12 Academy Awards, and quite frankly, it could easily end up with a full house. Yes, it really is that good.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter