Film Review: The Revenant

by Chad Liffmann on January 8, 2016

Revenge is a dish best served cold and gorgeously shot.

DiCaprio in the wild.

DiCaprio in the wild.

This is it, everyone. This is the movie that Leonardo DiCaprio will win an Oscar for…I think. That’s not to say that The Revenant is Leo’s best performance. I’d say that it ranks a few titles above midway through his filmography, right above Blood Diamond and just below The Departed (and far below The Aviator and Revolutionary Road). Nevertheless, it’s Leo’s most physically demanding performance and let’s give credit to director/writer/producer Alejandro González Iñárritu for convincing the actor to dive so deep into the demands of the role. The Revenant is most impressive when experiencing its outstanding technical achievements. As a simple tale of survival and revenge, its not overly impressive from a storytelling standpoint. But in capturing the tone and setting of the story, the skill set of the actors and filmmakers on display lift The Revenant to very memorable heights.

The Revenant is based on the oral stories of the 1800’s fur trapper, Hugh Glass. It’s not the first film to tell Glass’ story — 1971’s Man in the Wilderness starring Richard Harris and John Huston explored the legend of Hugh Glass’ survival tale. While Iñárritu adds some fictional flourishes to Glass’ story, the basis is a strong groundwork for the powerful revenge tale at the heart of the film. While traveling with a group of trappers through the wilderness, Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is savagely mauled by a bear. Miraculously alive but in critical condition, the group carries Glass but must choose to hurry their pace and conserve resources in order to make it back to their fort. With two members of the group, in-it-for-himself trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and young inexperienced trader Bridger (Will Poulter), staying behind to monitor Glass with Glass’ Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the rest of the group leaves. Fitzgerald doesn’t believe Glass will live and resents the impact that Glass and his son have had on their journey, and takes action to remedy the situation for himself. Left for dead and with no tools or food to stay alive, Glass must literally crawl his way back to life, salvation, and revenge.

First, let’s talk about DiCaprio and Hardy. They may have been chummy partners in Inception, but they are hardened opposing frontiersmen in The Revenant. Both deliver outstanding performances, with DiCaprio covering the physical side of the spectrum and Hardy covering the dialogue portion. Hardy is quickly becoming a modern day chameleon of the silver screen, adapting his accents and emotional presence easily to each character he portrays. My point being — he’s incredible in The Revenant.

Second, let’s talk about the bear attack. I was worried about this scene after seeing glimpses of it in the trailer—not because of the stupid nonsensical rumors that started swarming the internet about it, but because I was worried it would follow in the footsteps of past CG animal attacks. I thought it would look fake and have an unrealistic flow to it. Well, shame on me for doubting! The bear attack is one of the most harrowing and gut-wrenching animal attacks ever on screen, and it looks extremely real. It’s really the moment that changes the entire story, and the filmmakers absolutely nailed it and delivered the result in one uninterrupted shot. Bravo.

Hauntingly beautiful, isn't it?

Hauntingly beautiful, isn’t it?

Speaking of uninterrupted shots, The Revenant marks the second collaboration between director Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (the first was last year’s Birdman). Lubezki also showcased his ability to utilize long takes as strong tools for storytelling in 2013’s Gravity (and Children of Men and the last five Terrence Malick films!). The sweeping shots of the wilderness are breathtaking, with only naturally lit scenes and real middle-of-nowhere locations. There’s an interesting dichotomy throughout The Revenant between the harsh cruelty inflicted on humans by other humans, and the serene yet uncontrollable effects of their natural surroundings.

The one downside of The Revenant is the addition of a handful of spiritual visions, a characteristic of the story that feels overdone and forced. Though beautifully shot, these visions get a bit tiresome and slow down what is otherwise an already slowly paced drama. Don’t let the action-packed trailers fool you—The Revenant is a quiet drama that, literally and figuratively, drags you along for maximum impact. Consider me happily dragged. #Oscar4Leo


The Revenant will be widely released in theaters Friday, January 8th.



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