Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written By: Mark L . Smith & Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonard DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Year: 2015 (US) 2016 (UK)
Runtime: 156 Minutes
It’s been a while since I have seen a film so raw and unforgiving. Alejandro González Iñárritu has made a modern day epic that escapes the age old, conventions of the genre: The Revenant is not afraid to show how desperate one must be to survive such a harsh landscape. As with any Iñárritu film, the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezk is outstanding, shots of the desolate wilderness, frozen forests and tumbling waterfalls will leave you utterly breathless. The film is shot in such a natural and organic way that you often forget that it is a narrative film: the events just seem to unfold in front of your very eyes.
It is equally refreshing to see a western that does not try to fully emulate the template set out by legends of the genre like John Ford or Sergio Leone. The film does not have any showy duels or tense, cleverly cut showdowns, and focuses more on the real, fights are over in a matter of seconds instead of minutes. The Revenant is a revenge story that involves tracker Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) being wronged by his sworn brothers, he is left for dead following a vicious bear attack and swears to avenge those that wronged him. The plot of the film is different but not too far from what is typical of the genre: it has the revenge odyssey from True Grit and 3:10 To Yuma and perhaps a few nods to The Searchers, but unlike a lot of westerns, the setting does not define The Revenant.
The dimly-lit visuals and earthy grit evoke shades of Ridley Scott’s epics Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. Inarritu is one of our most-gifted visual auteur directors, each shot has been carefully planned and executed, he makes great use of minimal lighting and diegetic sound. The visuals are so strong that the dialogue seems to take a backseat, a lot of the great scenes involved little or no dialogue and rely on action or the emotions shown in the characters’ faces. Outside of Hugh Glass’s compelling story, the setting is a bit vague, it isn’t always clear who the outside agents of the film are and what their motivations are, but, for quite a simple premise, Glass’s tale of revenge is so personal that is so unlike what we have seen before in a western.
Is this the year that Leo finally gets his Oscar? It is certainly hard to image anyone else in this role. DiCaprio surely must share his triumph with Tom Hardy, who plays the main antagonist of the film, the burly half-scalped John Fitzgerald. Hardy’s character is a joy to watch, mainly because there is more to his characterisation than just a straight-forward menacing figure, Fitzgerald is a mean brawler who will do anything to survive no matter the consequences; he won’t think twice about lying or killing. Similarly, the equally brilliant Domnhall Gleeson, who’s had a pretty decent 2015 (Ex Machina, , Brooklyn, Star Wars) plays Captain Andrew Henry a great subtle performance, the captain seems to be the only civilized figure among his mostly crew.
The great success of The Revenant is how accessible it is, it will work for so many different audience demographics: the occasional film-goer, families with adult children and the dedicated cinephiles. For once, it’s lucky that the trailers do not hinder the great spectacle of the film, the opening action sequence, in which the party of trappers are ambushed by an Indian raid, is so visceral and fast-paced that it knocks you senseless. The infamous ‘bear attack’ scene is by far the standout-scene of the film, so grim and horrible that it’s hard not to believe that a real bear didn’t shred DiCaprio in real life. Some cinema-goers may be discouraged by the handheld approach to some of the cinematography, which jars with the naturalistic, almost cinema-vérité style.
It’s hard to fault such an ambitious project from the world’s leading talent in film, The Revenant is incredible and masterful on many levels. It goes to show that Hollywood can still produce such risky and bold projects without having to compromise in the name of profits. The intensity is so different to the usual standard we expect from cinema, for better or worse, there is no real lightness to The Revenant, no real humour or warmth, but elements I am sure the director purposefully excluded, as to better show Glass’s desperate plight.