Leonardo DiCaprio embarks on a quest for survival through harsh terrain in this artfully vengeful Oscar-winning masterpiece. ★★★★★
THE REVENANT, 20th Century Fox, (2016)
Dir: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Genre: Epic, Drama, Historical, Survival
When a film begins to trailer a good two months prior to its release date, the viewer is left to assume one of two things; The First: that said film has a really big budget to recoup or – Second: that this film is being plugged, shamelessly, for Oscar season. Occasionally, both are true and, even less often, they actually turn out to be worth the hype.
From the first viewing of the tense, adrenaline fuelled trailer, it was apparent that The Revenant was one such film (it cost $135 million), and as seems to be perquisite these days, we are treated to approximately 90% of the plot in the promo alone. Native American attacks, bear mailings and live burials are no spoiler. Set in hostile US territory circa 1823 and based on real life events, The Revenant follows the tale of intrepid explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the events following his being severely injured during the aforementioned bear attack. The remaining members of the pelt-hunting crew drag him along for as far as they dare before Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and co push onwards for help, leaving Glass with his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), naive youth Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and poacher John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), whose outlook is as harsh and unrelenting as the terrain.
“As a viewer, you feel in the thick of it and equally at risk – whether you be sprinting through the trees… or pinned underwater and struggling for breath.”
We all know what happens next, thanks to that over-revealing trailer; Fitzgerald thinks it kinder to snuff Glass and be gone, much to the distress of Hawk, who Fitzgerald murders whilst Glass looks on and buries him in a shallow grave. It’s quick, shocking and tense, and it is the start of our intrepid chase across the wilderness. For a film that is nigh on two and a half hours long, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu – he of Birdman (2014) fame, for which he won multiple Academy Awards in 2015 – creates a pace and ambience that drives the inhabitants of this world onwards in a quest to escape the peril and solitude. It is a testament to DiCaprio’s earnest performance as Glass that, despite being the sole entity onscreen for the majority of the film, he conveys more emotion via his eyes and body language than many an actor struggles to do with their voice. He (and the rest of the cast and crew, for that matter) is certainly put through the ringer; clambering in and out of frozen rivers, sleeping in animal carcasses, chowing down on raw bison liver (DiCaprio is vegetarian) and the constant threat of hypothermia were no doubt contributory factors that saw the actor
finally being awarded an Oscar for Best Actor.
Whilst this is certainly DiCaprio’s film (with honourable mention to Hardy’s ever-excellence in his portrayal of Fitzgerald), the omnipresent entity in this tale is the habitat through which we traverse alongside Glass – albeit a far cosier ride. It is the instigator of everything, and fuels the belly of the film: it kills Glass, and saves Glass countless times before ultimately (though you are open to your own interpretation) consuming him back into the earth. Iñárritu shows committed zeal in conveying nature at its utmost intensity; it would be uncouth to describe it as anything but beautiful. The shots used are mesmerising, whether the camera is panning upward through the pines, splashing through the river or frosting the lens with DiCaprio’s breath. The opening sequence is singularly ambitious and spectacular, and recalls the one-shot nature of Iñárritu’s Birdman. Both the fighting choreography and Emmanuel Lubezki’s creative cinematography are sublime; as a viewer, you feel in the thick of it and equally at risk – whether you be sprinting through the trees with Glass or pinned underwater and struggling for breath with Bridger.
“With each look DiCaprio gives… you believe in his solemn and burning need to avenge what has been taken from him.”
The final piece in this painfully assembled jigsaw is the score crafted by revered film composed Ryuichi Sakamoto, alongside Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner of The National. It is simultaneously sparse, fraught and emotive – a perfect companion to the film itself, and in listening both in and out of context, the music conveys the juxtaposed human need with the unrelenting terrain, and the merging of the two in order for one man to survive.
The tale of The Revenant has graced screens in similarly hyperbolic fashion before, courtesy of Richard C. Sarafian’s Man In The Wilderness (1971), starring Richard Harris as a re-coined “Zachary Bass”, though it is presumably the 2002 novel The Revenant: Man In The Wilderness by Michael Punke that we can thank for pushing Iñárritu’s reimagining of the alleged historical survival story of the real Glass. So much of this film feels sincere; every character in The Revenant is propelled by a solitary aim, and there is no finery in their quest for survival. With each look DiCaprio gives and every movement DiCaprio makes, you believe in his solemn and burning need to avenge what has been taken from him. Time and again, The Revenant proves itself all-pervasive, though its most ubiquitous sentiment is one man’s journey through loneliness.
PS: Here’s a wonderful interview with Ryuchi Sakamoto on Rolling Stone about the composition of The Revenant soundtrack.
- You want to see what all of the Oscar-winning fuss was about.
- You don’t mind atmospheric landscape shots and long portions of silence.
- You appreciate the prowess of supporting actors Hardy, Poulter and Gleeson, who deliver strong and memorable performances to challenge the leading man.
- You want to see if that CGI bear is as ferocious as the critics claim (sorry; it is.)