UK Release Date: 15th January 2016
Runtime: 156 minutes
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writer: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mark L Smith
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson
Synopsis: A fur trapper is left for dead by his colleagues when he is mauled almost to death by an angry bear.
Much of the publicity for The Revenant has focused on one of two things. First, there was the bizarre, and erroneous, reports that the film contained a scene of rape by a bear. More importantly, though, this will likely be the film that finally nets Leonardo DiCaprio his elusive Academy Award. With Birdman director Alejandro G. Iñárritu at the helm, this is a brutal tale of human survival against the forces of nature.
Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is the most experienced fur trapper in a party led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). He is savaged by a bear and placed under the protection of hostile John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and the naive youngster Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). Fitzgerald murders Glass’s son (Forrest Goodluck) and leaves him for dead in a shallow grave. Glass somehow manages to survive and vows revenge on those who left him behind.
On paper, The Revenant is quite a tough sell. It’s a largely dialogue-free story of one man doing the sort of things that would make even Bear Grylls blush. In the hands of Iñárritu though, alongside returning DoP Emmanuel Lubezki, the film is a work of quite astonishing beauty that still maintains a sense of dirt under its fingernails. Every frame of the film, shot using natural light, is beautiful in communicating the physicality of the world in which these people have placed themselves. It’s enough to have Lubezki as a dead cert for his third consecutive Oscar for cinematographer – sorry, Roger Deakins.
| "I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I done it already."
Physicality is very much the word that encapsulates everything about The Revenant. It’s a film about how the dogged determination of the human survival instinct butts heads with the brute, unstoppable force of nature. Nowhere is this more obvious than in DiCaprio’s performance. Tom Hardy’s spittle-flecked Fitzgerald may be the film’s nominal antagonist, but the story is truly about Glass’s battle with the elements.
It’s certainly impossible to doubt DiCaprio’s commitment to the role. Much has been made of how he clambered inside animal carcasses and defied his vegetarianism to munch on raw bison liver. After slicing his hand open on glass in Django Unchained, Leo has gone one better in an intrepid turn that deserves the major awards recognition is getting. Even outside of the survivalist stunts, there’s a rage in DiCaprio’s eyes that sells every turn of the film’s narrative, even when Iñárritu loses sight of the film’s strengths.
Iñárritu is both the best friend and worst enemy of The Revenant. It is his singular vision that brought the film to fruition, but his indulgence that often threatens to drag it off the rails. Strange spiritual interludes often suck momentum from the story and a bizarre segment involving a Native American pal for Glass drags for far too long. The film is at the best when it’s visceral and simple, but these complications bloat the running time unnecessarily.
| "He’s afraid. He knows how far I came for him."
The Revenant does, however, do a stellar job of adding depth to its supporting characters. Hardy gives tremendously plausible ferocity and Domhnall Gleeson has a certain cowardly gravitas, but it is Will Poulter who steals the show as a young man full of nervous bravado, but way out of his depth in the midst of a metaphorical minefield.
There’s no doubt that, for all of its flaws, The Revenant is filmmaking at its most potent. Iñárritu and DiCaprio cannot be accused of playing it safe and they have produced something that is truly unique. It doesn’t always come together, but when it does, it’s nothing short of masterful.
Pop or Poop?
All of the press attention may be on Leo, but The Revenant is an exceptional achievement from all involved. It missteps occasionally, but Alejandro G. Iñárritu deserves all of the credit in the world for mounting a project of such scale and ambition.
It might not emerge victorious amongst the more Academy-friendly films on Oscar night, but The Revenant is modern filmmaking at its most physical and muscular.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.