Iñárritu’s Birdman follow-up is a raw and visceral tale of survival and revenge told through the screams and grunts of a fiercely-devoted Leonardo Dicaprio.
The Revenant tells the well-known, but highly-disputed tale of survival of fur trapper Hugh Glass. If you’ve read about this film at all or have seen the trailer, you know that the event that sets the tale in motion is a brutal bear attack Glass suffers when out on a hunt. The Leo vs. grizzly scene, which lasts more than ten minutes is not only one of the the most captivating, and savage scenes in recent memory, it’s also a remarkable technical achievement. The camera consistently floats and occasionally rotates, but its presence isn’t felt. There is no visible barrier, the audience too feels like it’s being mauled. Following the attack, Glass is left for dead and -without going into detail- betrayed by fellow fur-trapper John Fitzgerald, expertly portrayed by Tom Hardy.
The film then turns into a harrowing story of survival and revenge that is as relentless and vicious as it is aesthetically stunning. Academy Award winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki -the man behind, Birdman, Gravity, and Children of Men among others- relied almost entirely upon natural light for his compositions in The Revenant -and the results are not only gorgeous but organic. Shots feel like extensions of the natural world rather than mechanical intrusions or interpretations of nature. And the brutality and beauty of nature itself has a distinct role in the film as both an unceasing force and a nurturing expanse.
The film revolves around Dicaprio’s relentlessly physical performance and Hardy’s more cerebrally sleazy one and the entire supporting cast is strong throughout. Tom Hardy does a great job here with his villainous portrayal of John Fitzgerald, not ever letting it get away from him and stumble into a predefined and predictable area – it’s selfishness that fuels Fitzgerald’s actions not any innate desire for evil. And Dicaprio’s portrayal is about as raw, corporeal and unremittingly carnal as anything that has graced the silver scree before it. Leo’s Glass, scrapes, claws and crawls his way back to life over frozen ground and through weather conditions that are -for the most part- entirely incompatible with human life. In terms of nuisance and technique, this may not be Dicaprio’s most impressive performance, but his physical devotion to the role is remarkable in its own right.
The film as a whole has a spiritual element that could’ve potentially been explored more deeply at certain points, but this lack of exploration doesn’t take away too much from The Revenant as a whole. The story itself is basic, but if it were to have ventured off in different directions it may have muddled the straightforward, man on a mission approach of the whole thing and turned it into something else. In terms of locale and directorial approach, The Revenant is a drastic departure for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, but in certain ways, The Revenant can be seen as a companion piece to Birdman. While Birdman took place almost entirely within the walls of a theatre, and played to the claustrophobic nature of that interior, The Revenant plays the wide open, seemingly infinite expanses of snow covered forests and hills as the opposing threat. In Birdman, the threat was an internal one extending outward, and in The Revenent, the threat is an external one encroaching inward. The Revenant may not have the unceasing and vibrant originality of Birdman, but it’s still a very well made film with a intensely devoted performance at its core.
Bottom Line: The Revenant is a straight-forward but stunningly beautiful/brutal tale of survival and revenge.
by Jesse Mechanic