DIRECTOR: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
RELEASE DATE: 12/25/2015 (Limited), 01/06/16 (Wide)
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson,
and Will Poulter.
If Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s gut wrenching and spine chilling western doesn’t get Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar, nothing else will.
There has been a ton of buzz surrounding The Revenant leading up to its release to the public. From rumors of a bear trying to rape Leonardo DiCaprio to the shooting of the film being “a living hell”. After watching it, one thing is clear: it’s not a movie you’re going to forget anytime soon.
Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu cleaned up at the Oscars in 2015 with his last film Birdman, which amassed a total of 4 awards including: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Cinematography. So to say he has a lot to live up to with The Revenant would be putting it mildly.
Iñárritu decided to do a 180 with this next film and focus on something much different, fur traders in the 1820s. The movie centers on one trader in particular, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his story is rather insane. After being accosted by a tribe of Native Americans, Glass and his crew scramble to make their way back to safety. Glass then makes one massive mistake, that will haunt him and you the viewer forever. He stumbles upon a bear and her cubs, and like any self respecting bear does, it steals his picnic basket. Just kidding, this isn’t a cutesy cartoon that lies about bears and how friendly they are. No, it shows you that they are savage animals that will rip you to pieces and that’s exactly what this bear does to Hugh Glass.
But the story doesn’t end there. Glass survives, barely, and that’s where things go south quick. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), and Hugh’s son are left with him while the rest of the expedition heads for help. Fitzgerald decides that Glass isn’t worth the effort and leaves him for dead, but not before killing his son as well.
Half buried and left to turn into worm food is where Leonardo DiCaprio starts to painstakingly unveil his character’s undying fortitude. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long to reach this moment in the film and it’s from here that the main objective for Hugh becomes apparent, survive and get revenge. Not exactly a new concept in cinema, but the way DiCaprio and Iñárritu present it works unlike any film before it.
DiCaprio’s performance from the second act forward is mostly silent and instead puts emphasis on conveying emotion through visual cues and idiosyncrasies that feel like something only he could deliver. The film is cold, uninviting and brutal, all of which resonate through Leonardo’s character in such a realistic way. You feel the dirt under his nails, the zero below waters filling his boots as he crawls along the edge of a snowy riverbed. It’s unforgiving to the point of making you break down along with him.
But Leo wasn’t the only one manipulating the audience. Alejandro manages to take the western genre and turn it into something so substantive, so visceral, as a viewer you’re left grateful that you’re living in 2015 and not the Old West. This effect materializes with many directorial choices, like filming in sequential order and only using natural lighting, but also in the choice of pairing back up with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
Lubezki has almost as much to do with the success of this film as Alejandro. Not since his work on The New World or The Tree of Life has Emmanuel seemed to so effortlessly capture nature in such a harrowing, yet alluring way. From the onslaught that opens the film, he immediately sends you into a trance like state, where you see the horror unfolding in front of you but you almost don’t mind it. It’s an odd feeling and unique to this film.
I found The Revenant to be satisfying, but there were a few lulls in the journey back to civilization that felt like they dragged the film down at times. There was also a cut off for me with the overall big picture. It’s almost so exceptional at creating this cold and uncompromising world that I had a hard time letting it into my heart. That disconnect may just be me, but it’s certainly a film that left a mark on me and one I will revisit.