Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Stars: Leonardo diCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter
Duration: 156 mins
KRS Releasing Ltd
Not content to sit on his laurels following his Best Picture and Best Director wins at last year’s Academy Awards with Birdman, Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu threatens to deliver his second, one-two punch in a row with The Revenant, the film which garnered 12 nominations and is already placed as the film to beat come February 28.
The action of Birdman was confined for the most part to the backstage area of a Broadway theatre; with The Revenant, Iñárritu takes things outdoors, to the American Frontier circa 1823, to be precise.
It is a vast, hostile, yet simultaneously beautiful, wilderness which provides the backdrop to this gut-wrenching and gripping tale. It was the time of discovery where explorers strove to conquer the land, initiating the great American expansion westwards into unknown forests, across icy rivers and up treacherous mountains. And, it is here, in a deceptively quiet and idyllic spot, that we meet a disparate group of hunters and fur trappers.
They are on a hunting expedition and the idyll is shattered when they are attacked by a Native American tribe. With half their party killed, the survivors make their way home, led by experienced frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo diCaprio).
However, when Glass is attacked and horrifically and almost fatally mauled by a bear, he is left in the care of a couple of men, while the rest seek help… only to be buried alive and callously abandoned. Despite shredded skin, broken bones, and dreadful internal injuries, Glass refuses to die.
The Revenant is a story of a man whose fight for survival was as tenacious as it was tenuous, as he makes his way by crawling, limping and riding across the unforgiving landscape that stretches out for hundreds of miles before him. Yet, he carries on regardless, driven by a thirst for revenge so strong that nothing will stop him, not even the harsh elements of nature that stand in his way.
The making of the film has already entered myth, with the actors and crew eschewing creature comforts for the challenges thrown at them during the location shoot, which took place in territories as stark, wild and unpredictable as those depicted in the film. DiCaprio augmented the realism by opting to do many of his own stunts in those harsh conditions.
The making of the film has already entered myth, with the actors and crew eschewing creature comforts for the challenges thrown at them during the location shoot
Make no mistake – this is no adventure ride and The Revenant does not make for easy viewing. While the background vistas, shot by Emmanuel Lubezki in natural light, are nothing short of spectacular, they are unable to distract from the foreground action. The film is relentless in its brutality, blood-letting and bleakness, from the opening sequence when the hunting party comes under attack and the intensity of the savagery that unfolds hits the viewer with an adrenaline rush so potent it doesn’t subside for a good, long while.
So deep in the action is the camera you expect it to get smashed by an arrow at any moment. It escalates even further in the now infamous mauling scene, which is horrifying in its authenticity and ferocity.
The relentless pace does let up at times. The flashback to Glass in happier times with his Native American wife and son come as welcome relief. Yet, so daunting, difficult and demanding is his odyssey as he faces one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another that emotional fatigue threatens to set in a little while beyond the midway point, robbing the viewer of some of their emotional engagement with his punishing plight.
Nevertheless, barring any major surprises on February 28, this is the performance that will net the 41-year-old actor his first Oscar and, while it is less an acting performance than an astonishing feat of gruel-ling physicality, it is no less impressive for it. It is certainly short on dialogue – for the most part Glass ex-presses himself in groans and grunts. But it is a performance that, like the character, is built on sheer determination and impossible strength.
But diCaprio adds many shades to the role and succeeds in projecting the hardships faced by Glass, a man who really existed and who, by all accounts did go through this hellish ordeal.
A strong supporting cast includes Domhnall Gleeson as Captain Henry, the decent leader of the expedition, Will Poulter as a young, inexperienced hunter and Tom Hardy, nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role as Glass’s ruthless nemesis John Fitzgerald.
The actor is on a roll and Fitzgerald is another feather in his cap. His is a tough, imposing and malevolent presence, although it must be said there are times when his wild mumbled ramblings are incoherent.
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