The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant (20th Century Fox)
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant (20th Century Fox)

What it's about:

Deep in the unchartered American wilderness, hunter Hugh Glass is severely injured and left for dead by John Fitzgerald, a traitorous member of Glass’s team. With sheer will as his only weapon, Glass must navigate a hostile environment, a brutal winter, and warring tribes—in a relentless quest to survive and exact vengeance on Fitzgerald.

What we thought:

As awards season rolls around, The Revenant is at the forefront of the race with three Golden Globe wins in the bag and 12 Oscar nominations to look forward to. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who dominated the Oscars last year with Birdman, it’s no wonder that The Revenant is getting so much attention, but its popularity can also be attributed to the Internet’s obsession with Leonardo DiCaprio’s lack of golden statues, and this times it seems he could actually make it to Oscar glory. 

Set in 18th century Louisiana wilderness, The Revenant follows the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a famous tracker who was left for dead by his hunting party after being viciously mauled by a bear. Fuelled by revenge for the death of his Indian son, Glass struggles to survive the callous wilderness with his almost-fatal wounds in search of the murderer (Tom Hardy).

In similar style to the long uncut pan shots of Birdman, Iñárritu kept to this style to create epic scenery shots of cruel beauty in a landscape so barren. His refusal to use green screens worked to create a stunning piece of cinematography, although at the expense of a budget that more than doubled by the end of production. Not only did you see the suffering in the landscape, you could also feel it from the performance of the actors, who in real life did work in savage conditions.

The onscreen suffering of their characters were real in that they were also suffering, adding to the amazingly gritty performance of DiCaprio, Hardy and Domnhal Gleeson, who is fast turning into one of my favourite performers. DiCaprio brought it home though, with the palpable anguish of the loss of his son searing into your heart. Although, Hardy’s accent was a difficult one to understand most of the time. You understood him more in his body language than his actual dialogue, which is commendable in itself.

As for the bear attack (and no, he does not get raped by the bear), it was the most brutal scene I have ever seen in film. Despite the bad CGI of the bear that almost ruined it, the sound editor did a fantastic job at making it feel like the bear was clawing into me, every swipe at bloodied flesh audible to my panicked ear. You didn’t have to see it to know that you wouldn’t wish a bear attack on your worst enemies. Even worse, the story is based on a true story, which makes it that more terrifying.

Aside from the cinematography, acting and bear attack, my one major flaw of The Revenant was the story and momentum. For such intense action-packed sequences, the film had many lulls where I found my mind drifting to other things and I had to force myself back to the story. Iñárritu was more interested in his long pans of empty snow than moving the story along. Besides the main story of revenge, there was this parallel story of Indian warriors in search of the chief’s daughter, kidnapped by white men. It’s impact on the main story was minimal and leaving it out would have had little effect on the film as a whole. There were also dream sequences that just reiterated the same thing over and over again, underestimating the audience’s ability to grasp Glass’s backstory, which is easily understood from the beginning.

The Revenant is a brutal film about survival and revenge with a backdrop of beautiful white expanses and dead trees, bolstered by incredible performances, yet story and momentum blemishes an almost flawless film.

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