photo courtesy of collider.com
‘The Revenant’ is a cinematic triumph
Alejandro González Iñárritu. Remember this name. The Mexican writer/director/producer stormed through the awards circuit last year with his dramatic comedy Birdman, winning the Oscar for best picture, directing, original screenplay and cinematography. Just a year later, he’s thrusting himself back into the heat of the competition with his breathtaking epic, The Revenant.
Starting with a limited release on Christmas Day and expanding nationwide on Jan. 8, this story takes place in the early 1800s on the American frontier and centers around a fictionalized portrayal of the real-life fur trapper and mountain man Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio). After his men are attacked by the Ree, a Native American tribe, they are forced to leave most of their pelts behind and survive the wilderness as well as their vicious attackers until they reached safety. But shortly after their escape, Glass is mauled by a bear and left in a critical state, leaving his men to assume that there’s no chance for him to recover. Quickly becoming a nuisance to his men as he slows them down, the group’s leader Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) plans to leave Glass behind along with three men to care for him until the rest of the survivors can reach their camp and bring help.
Left behind is the devilish John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the innocent Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’s Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Frustrated with having lost their pelts and being forced to drag Glass with him, Fitzgerald kills Glass’ son and takes Bridger back onto their trail, leaving Glass behind. All hope seems lost, yet by somehow miraculously recuperating from his injury, Glass sets out on a path to claim Fitzgerald’s life and avenge the death of his son.
Iñárritu relentlessly pushes himself here by doing everything in his power to seamlessly submerge the audience into this world of savagery that he has crafted through the disturbing realism he evokes. From the stunning opening scene, he establishes the harsh, graphic, raw themes and details of his creation as well as its bleak tone, which never lets up. There’s never a moment to take a break from the brutality of his characters and his setting with moments of comedic relief or whatnot. This is a thoroughly dreadful, unrelenting experience that Iñárritu wants to make as immersive as possible, making it as much as an endurance test for the audience as it is for Glass, as he’s pitted against the cruel forces of nature and humanity.
DiCaprio is magnificent as always in this largely physical role that features more instinctual reactions and behaviors than it does dialogue. The role was an undoubtedly difficult task for an actor to pull off, but unsurprisingly, DiCaprio was the man for the job as he brings a vast multitude of layers and emotion to the protagonist. He effectively exhibits the spiritual growth of Glass through the pain he experiences on his journey, providing him with a tremendously deep character arc. Hardy, along with the rest of the cast, also turn in terrific, dedicated performances that elevate the film’s dramatic elements to as high as they can be.
It would be a dishonor not to acknowledge the work of cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who won the Oscar for best cinematography for Gravity in 2014, Birdman in 2015 and, hopefully, The Revenant in 2016. This is truly some of the best camerawork that has ever been put to film, as it captures a sensational gravitas with every frame. Lubezki manages to not only intimately connect with the characters as he closes up on their faces, almost distorting them in a way, but to also display these gorgeous landscapes in the same shot. It’s a truly remarkable feat that he pulls off and is something that the movie just wouldn’t be the same without.
This is one of the year’s most dramatically powerful, beautifully shot, impressively acted and overall best films. There’s never a dull moment, nor a moment of levity, and it challenges the audience in ways most mainstream movies would never consider. Props to 20th Century Fox for having the guts to support such a daring picture, and hopefully they, along with the artists involved, are rewarded for such a risk.