Film Review: The Revenant
The Revenant is one of those films which is more of an endurance test than a piece of entertainment, more of an immersive experience than the observation of a story. Depending on how you look at it this can be other good or bad. One thing The Revenant is not, however, is boring.
The plot is a simple one, and one filmgoers have seen before. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a tracker and fur trapper in the 1820s frontier of North America. After he and his hunting party are attacked by a group of Native Americans, a dozen of the survivors flee into the wilderness. Glass is then mauled by a bear and is carried some distance by his fellow trappers, before the terrain makes transporting the injured man impossible. Soon bickering and dissenting loyalties among the group ensue. The antagonist of the group, Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy, kills Glass’ son and leaves the injured fur trapper for dead. The rest of the movie follows a similar narrative to that of any revenge flick, with DiCaprio’s character, half-dead, battling against the elements in pursuit of the man who killed his son.
What makes The Revenant a cut above the rest in its genre is the technical brilliance with which the filmmaking itself is executed. Director Alejandro Iñárritu uses similar techniques which brought him Oscar success last year with ‘Birdman’. Long, sweeping takes follow the action with few cuts, and there seems to be nowhere the camera cannot go: on horseback, into the air and underwater. Uncomfortably close shots of the actors’ faces, seething, panting and gazing into the cold wilderness put the viewer right beside them. The violence, from the opening scene of the Indian raid in the hunting camp to a knife fight and the incredible bear-mauling sequence is brutal and unrelenting.
Much of this immersive and engaging style must be accredited to the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, who, along with the director, chose to shoot the film in all natural light for added authenticity. When the camera isn’t following arrows from Indian bows and swirling around on horseback pursuits, it is capturing the rocky mountain landscape and merciless terrain in all its petrifying glory. The use of pale, cold daylight results in jaw-dropping vista shots and breath-taking views of the vast forest and white mountain ranges that put the viewer right in the picture.
The score of the film imitates the uncomfortableness of the environment, with winding electronic drones and thunderous orchestral charges which drive the action forward.
The acting from the whole cast is superb. The real stand-out performance, however, must go to Leonardo DiCaprio- if for nothing but for the sheer endurance and strength to play such a physically demanding role. In a part with little dialogue, his character is portrayed through brutal action and a seething anger bubbling under the surface as he pursues his son’s killer. He is put through every obstacle the wilderness can throw at him and the viewer is freezing and writhing with him every step of the way.
So, if you’re looking for an easy, relaxing flick to unwind with after a long day, The Revenant is not it. However, for sheer spectacle and an incredibly immersive cinematic experience, you can do no better.