The Revenant review by Calum Maclean
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast – Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Lukas Haas, Paul Anderson and an incredibly realistic CGI Bear.
Running time – 156 Minutes
Set in 1823 and partially based on the novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant tells the story of a group of pelt trappers who come under attack by Native Americans, leading to their best tracker Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) being brutally mauled by a bear. With the survival of his men in jeopardy, Captain Hunt (Gleeson) is forced to leave the wounded Glass in the care of Glass’s half Native son Hawk (Goodluck), the naïve Jim Bridger (Poulter) and the cynical John Fitzgerald (Hardy). Before long, Fitzgerald’s self-interest leads to the abandonment of the still breathing Glass in a shallow grave, and to the wounded man embarking on a long road to vengeance.
Much has been written about the authentic hardship onscreen. The film was shot using only natural light in some of the most punishing terrain and weather conditions, while Glass’s desperate attempts to feed and keep himself warm result in some truly stomach churning animal encounters. This is an uncompromisingly bleak depiction of life with hardly any levity, not something to watch casually. I personally had to wait for the right mood to strike me before I bought my ticket. But there are things to enjoy in the film.
Firstly, the performances. As a character, Hugh Glass isn’t particularly memorable. He’s more of a cipher for misfortune, and in watching the film I increasingly saw him as DiCaprio which took me out of his narrative a little, but did make me notice and respect the dedication. In my opinion this is the wrong time for DiCaprio’s Oscar, but since the right time has come and gone, I’ll be happy if he wins. Much more compelling are the performances of Hardy, Gleeson and Poulter. Their accents are flawless and each man gives depth to their screen time, especially Hardy whose character is portrayed with nuance as well as cruelty.
The real stars of The Revenant are its Direction and Cinematography. The landscape is equally beautiful and bleak, and in DiCaprio’s (for a long time wordless) performance, the nature around him becomes a reflection of his struggles. As for Direction, fans of Iñárritu’s previous film Birdman will recognise his swooping camera choices in the thrilling opening assault, and his use of brutal close-ups, most prominently in the bear attack scene which is an unforgettable standout.
In my opinion these scenes and others like them really immerse the viewer in the story, but the momentum is too often lost by an overlong running time and a slackening of pace in the middle, though things do pick up again and the climax is edge of your seat. There’s a shorter, tighter more effective movie trying to get out of The Revenant, but it is hard to fault their ambition to produce something different.
I’m writing these words hours before the 88th Academy Awards and the seemingly inevitable landslide victory of The Revenant. The film has already swept the board at the Bafta’s and, unless the bookies have been majorly misinformed, DiCaprio will secure his long delayed Best Actor win, and Iñárritu will land his second consecutive Best Director and Best Picture victories, not to mention Emannuel Lubezki’s brilliant Cinematography. But are all these wins deserved?
Fundamentally it doesn’t matter. The Academy Awards is always afforded more significance by advertisers and the press than they deserve, and even a glance at the history of overlooked classics will tell you that their judgements are at best inconsistent. Taken on its own merit, The Revenant is an admirable, at times brilliant film, but one that suffers from that very same level of inconsistency.
Calum Maclean, 28 February, 2016.
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