Opening in wide release in just over a week, director extraordinaire Alejandro Inarritu’s new film The Revenant is a film for the ages. His follow-up film to the Academy Award winning Birdman is one that will surprise people in ways they don’t expect.
Set in the early 1800s in the Great Plains of the United States, a group of hunters and trappers are working on collecting animal pelts to sell when they are ambushed by a group of Native Americans. With a majority of their pelts lost to the natives, the group must try and make their way back to their compound without horses or a boat. Led by legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), Glass attempts to lead the group to safety but, while doing so, is attacked by a Grizzly bear and is shortly discovered on the brink of death. The team, led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), decides to carry Glass back to the compound unless he dies. After a lot of frustration, the Captain decides that he’ll pay a few man to take care of Glass until he passes. Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), Bridger (Will Poulter), and the selfish and prejudice John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) stay back to help while the team goes on. Eventually, some things happen and Fitzgerald’s patience wears thin, making the decision to leave the unprotected and vulnerable Glass out in the wilderness. Left for dead and fueled by vengeance, Glass puts his survival skills to the test as he attempts to recover and begin his hunt for the man that left him buried alive in a grave.
The Revenant is a story of isolation, revenge and, most notably, survival with bits of mystical spirituality thrown into the mix. Inspired by the real life Hugh Glass, this fictionalized version is equally legendary and the myth surrounding him as we watch his journey unfold is awe inspiring. Yes, there are some actions performed that don’t make sense since the character has some serious injuries that don’t align with what he does, but when you watch the film it’s easy to shrug it off just because of the pain and anguish you see on DiCaprio’s face. Much of the pain we feel for DiCaprio comes in the form of close-up shots, the idea being that you’re not here to just witness, you’re here to experience the misery with him.
Leonardo DiCaprio may not win an Oscar for his role, but he sure damn well will get nominated for his intense portrayal of a man who is constantly on the verge of death. The man’s performance is unrelenting and visceral, a great compliment to the layered and selfish role of Hardy’s Fitzgerald. The two have different moral codes and that’s what eventually leads to their heads clashing.
Glass’ story is the main one that we follow, but there are two side plots to the film, one focusing on Fitzgerald’s journey and one focusing on a group of Native Americans searching for their Chief’s daughter. In a brilliant way and in various capacities, each plot has the same theme, survival and revenge, it’s just one of the ways that makes the film so engaging to watch. It’s also refreshing to see side plots follow the same themes, I feel like we don’t see parallel storylines with the same themes often.
While DiCaprio is the main star of the film and who faces the most intense tests, the real star of the film is the landscape. Teaming up yet again with the insanely talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (he shot Birdman), The Revenant is a sight to behold and one of the most stunning films to watch in 2015. There are plenty of movies that deserve to be seen on the big screen but The Revenant might be the only one that I feel compelled to require people to see in theaters just so you can capture the beauty in all of its gigantic glory. The movie is shot with only natural light, making every flash that hits your eyes truly breathtaking. This is especially important when the wilderness is a character, one that berates and beats down on the human elements without any sympathy even though, on the surface, it’s all very picturesque. It’s a great moment to reflect on the duality of nature and its relationship to life.
The Revenant is not without its flaws. As I mentioned, DiCaprio must overcome some serious odds if he wants to exact revenge on Fitzgerald, who is safely out of reach. His body was torn up by a bear and he has a broken bone or two, so when you see him jump on a horse very quickly, it’s hard to believe he could do it (I couldn’t shrug this one off). Another aspect that didn’t sit right was the spiritual element. At times it made sense since DiCaprio had married a Native American woman and his son was a mix, but other times it felt unwarranted and a bit self-indulgent for Inarritu. In fact, it was these moments where the film had a bit of a Gladiator feel to it but not in a good way.
It’s hard to believe a movie like The Revenant was made. It was expensive, costing roughly $135 million, it’s a movie about an American frontiersman, making it less appealing to a global audience (why do you think they got DiCaprio and Hardy?), there’s not a ton of dialogue, it’s mostly an original story (not a remake or sequel), and, while it’s marketed as a revenge film, it’s really a story of survival. That combination of factors is rare in this day and age, especially in the Hollywood machine, so you can imagine why I’m pondering this same question my friend Alec of Flixist.com posed to me.
While it’s not for everyone, The Revenant is an experience that must be witnessed on the big screen. It’s a deeply engaging and beautiful film that moves at the perfect pace. You’ll feel every bit of pain our main character experiences from the thrashing during the bear attack, to the potential frostbite and hypothermia. It’s also chock full of very strong performances from actor’s who battled the harsh elements if only to deliver you one of the most rewarding pieces of entertainment 2015 has to offer. Thanks to the entire team behind and front of the camera, The Revenant is not only one of the most rewarding pieces of cinema this year, it’s also one 2015’s best overall.