Leonardo Di Caprio stars as Hugh Glass, a fur trapper working in the wilderness during the 1800s. With his son in tow, Glass is an essential member his hunting team and a master at tracking the path of any man or animal. When Glass barely survives a bear attack, he’s left for dead by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a colleague at odds with Glass over his half-Native American son. Although appearing nearly dead and partially buried alive by Fitzgerald, something in Glass pushes him to crawl out of his final resting place and pursue a path home.
Early on, I stopped believing in the story, which is partially based on truth but becomes so over the top, the “real” scenes become just as surreal as the dream sequences.
Alejandro G. Inarritu’s film is an often spellbinding work and couldn’t be more different than his prior work, the Best Picture winner Birdman. I found that film, as ambitious and impressively made as it was, to be a jumbled, smug and obvious commentary on the egos of actors and the profession of make-believe. The Revenant is slightly less pretentious, though even more visually innovative.
The entire film isn’t a single long shot (the Birdman stunt Inarritu would be wise to never repeat) but has clearly been filmed under harsh conditions, using natural lighting and utilizing locations that are stunning to behold. While this is relentlessly downbeat and emotionally draining (akin to Inarritu’s earlier films, Babel and 21 Grams), Inarritu is once again joined by Emmanuel Lubezki, the brilliant cinematographer whose work on The Tree of Life, Children of Men, Gravity, A Walk in the Clouds and The New World ranks him among cinema’s finest cameramen.
The Revenant is at its best when Innaritu and Lubezki are showing off. The scenes with the fur trappers and supporting characters are old hat, as the cast is attired like the Deliverance mountain men, intentionally mumbling their dialogue. When we’re with DiCaprio’s Glass, the film maintains its firm grip and stuns with one astonishing image after another.
Lubezki’s camera, both fish-eyed and you-are-there immersive, make this more vivid than 3D could. The best scenes are the painstakingly realized set-pieces, such as a pursuit on horseback, and Glass being swept down a roaring river. While the much discussed bear attack sequence is a jaw-dropper, so is the outrageous fate of Glass’ horse (one of several moments that made the audience gasp and cry out in surprise).
Hardy’s performance is reliably good, though the character isn’t quite as compelling and despicable enough to merit the bloodlust in Di Caprio’s character. Yes, he’s bad but should have come across as evil incarnate. Glass is so obviously superior in his survival skills, resilience and intelligence, his pursuit of Fitzgerald doesn’t seem entirely necessary.
Does Di Caprio deserve to win an Oscar for his work here? Sure, though he deserved it even more for The Aviator, The Wolf of Wall Street, Shutter Island, Catch Me If You Can, This Boy’s Life and The Basketball Diaries. However you look at it, he’s overdue for Academy Award recognition.
This is an especially grueling film, with ample gore and bloodletting. There’s also a rape, which seems unnecessary (the point of the scene would have been made without it). Inarritu is far more successful at evoking the dread and grime of the wild west than The Hateful Eight. This fine hybrid of western and survivalist adventure is a lot closer to The Grey than True Grit.
The Revenant is longer than it needs to be and offers as much bloodshed as entertainment value. If you’re going to see it, be sure to catch it on the big screen. You’ll want its otherworldly visions to wash over you.