Movie Review: ‘The Revenant’


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Plot:  Inspired by true events, The Revenant details the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper and tracker who after being mauled by a bear is left for dead by his companions John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter).  Glass miraculously survives and uses his wilderness skills to crawl, stumble, and ride 200 miles to Fort Kiowa, South Dakota with only one goal in mind–revenge.

Review:  In the last decade director Alejandro Inarritu has brought us a variety of innovative films including BabelBiutiful, and last year’s Oscar-winning film Birdman.  The Revenant continues Inarritu’s streak of compelling and engaging films.  While it’s not quite the masterpiece people are making it out to be, The Revenant, at almost 2 1/2 hours, immerses the viewer in a world that’s impossible to forget.  Think Last of the Mohicans meets Jeremiah Johnson meets The Outlaw Josey Wales and you’ll get a close approximation of Inarritu’s movie.

If nothing else The Revenant is a visually stunning film.  Shot in natural light, Academy Award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubzeki (Birdman) captures the awe-inspiring wilderness of British Columbia and Alberta with breath-taking effectiveness.  As with Birdman, tracking shots dominate The Revenant and are just as well crafted as Inarritu’s previous film.  Shot with the new 65 Alexa camera, the panoramic view of the Canadian wilderness highlights the rugged terrain and bitter cold that are characters in and of themselves in The Revenant.  (I dare anyone not to feel like they are freezing while watching this movie).  Furthermore, Inarritu’s film alternates frames per second often slowing down the frames in order to create a surreal like quality to The Revenant.  If I had one major complaint with The Revenant it’s that Inarritu employs this tactic WAY to much, to the point that it was distracting.

Inarritu possesses a meticulousness and eye for detail that is sorely lacking in many modern directors.  Everything from the frontier costumes, to the brutal environment, to Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and Bryce Dessner’s perfect score–nothing is left to chance.  Indeed the shoot for this film was so tough that several cast and crew either quit or were fired.  That’s either a testament and/or indictment of the lengths Inarritu is willing to go for his craft.  Either way, Inarritu knew what he wanted with this film and succeeded where other directors might have thrown up their hands and bailed.

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Unless you live in the woods, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the bear mauling scene in The Revenant.  I’m here to tell you that everything you’ve heard is true.  The scene itself is a testament to the wonders of filmmaking. I was astounded at how realistic this CGI bear appeared.  You cannot tell the difference.  DiCaprio looks like he’s literally getting mauled by a bear.  Along with some of the chase scenes in Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s one of the best of 2015.

The bear mauling scene is just one of several moments that showcase the acting talent of Leonardo DiCaprio.  While I don’t think this is his best career performance (for me it’s a tie between The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street), it’s undoubtedly his most physically taxing.  Never has the term “going method” applied more to DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hugh Glass.  His scrawny build, the physical torment, and the final choreographed confrontation with Fitzgerald demonstrate how committed DiCaprio was to this role.  Lest you think this is a purely physical role however, there’s just as much emotion and pathos.  There’s a particularly grim and terrifying scene where DiCaprio, immobile, watches his son killed by Fitzgerald.  The torment and devastation in DiCaprio’s eyes is palpable.  Dialogue comes at a premium in The Revenant as well, forcing DiCaprio to rely almost exclusively on facial expressions.  What he conveys with an intense look or a doleful stare is damn near revelatory.  DiCaprio’s performance will undoubtedly net him another Oscar nomination and most likely the golden statue as well.

Thankfully, The Revenant‘s supporting cast is just as solid as its leading man.  Will Poulter’s (The Maze RunnerWe’re The Millers) performance as the emotionally conflicted Jim Bridger proves that he’s a young actor to be reckoned with.  Bridger did not want to leave Glass behind but was bullied into it by Fitzgerald.  Regardless the guilt clearly eats away at him as the film progresses, resulting in an emotional meltdown towards the end of The Revenant that really resonates.  Up until The Revenant I hadn’t been particularly impressed with Domhnall Gleeson as an actor.  Gleeson came across annoying in Ex Machina and his performance as General Hux in The Force Awakens was bombastic and overdone.  However, I have to give credit where it’s due.  As the honorable Captain Andrew Henry, leader of the hunting expedition, Gleeson makes the most of every scene in which he’s in. His brief but powerful conversation with Glass in the third act was superb as were his several confrontations with Fitzgerald.

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However, among the supporting cast Tom Hardy once again steals the show as the duplicitous murderer John Fitzgerald.  I’m running out of superlatives to describe Hardy’s acting ability.  Hardy’s the closest thing we have to a 21st century Marlon Brando and I keep waiting to see him give a bad performance in a drama.  So far it hasn’t happened.  Hardy’s Fitzgerald isn’t evil in the traditional sense. He’s a man of practicality to the point of ruthlessness.  Survival both financial and physical is of paramount importance, and he’ll do anything to obtain them, including murder Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck).  There’s a depth to Fitzgerald that’s revealed twice in the film.  One instance occurs when Hardy describes the time he was scalped by Indians, the other about how his Father found God.  They’re among the best in the movie.  I hope to God Hardy finally gets the Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination he so richly deserves.

Whether you’re looking for a classic Western in the vein of The Great Silence, a revenge tale, a film with spectacular scenery, or just great acting, The Revenant delivers.

 

My rating:  9/10

 

You can follow me as Darth Gandalf on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1

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