One year after co-writer and director Alejandro G. Inarritu guided “Birdman” to Best Picture honors at the Oscars, he’s back at it with “The Revenant”, a gritty and engrossing two-and-a-half-hour saga, with meaty, memorable performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
The definition of ‘revenant’ is someone who returns from the dead. And that’s, basically, what happens with DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass, a legendary, real-life scout and frontiersman, (the script is based on a novel which is based on a true story) hired to lead a group of trappers into the dangerous, untamed wilderness of the American West in the 1820s. From the opening scene, in which he and his half Native American son are two of just ten members of the group who escape an attack by one of the many Native tribes in the region, Inarritu surrounds us with fear, violence, and death.
One of the hunters, a hot-head named John Fitzgerald, disagrees with Glass’ plan on how to get the group safely back to their camp. Glass is severely injured in a bear attack (possibly the most violently disturbing animal attack scene in movie history) and Fitzgerald, his son and another young trapper stay back with the dying Glass, with orders to bury him properly when the time comes. But some dramatic events take place, and Glass is simply left for dead. Amazingly, he survives, and from this point the story graphically follows his agonizing attempt to remain alive, with a mauled body and in the brutal weather conditions, track down Fitzgerald and get his revenge.
Outside of a few mystical flashbacks experienced by Glass during his journey, “The Revenant” is told in a linear fashion, which is its one main weakness. However, practically everything else – from the acting, to Inarritu’s bold vision, to the captivating cinematography, is quite impressive. This is a superbly crafted film.
Not only does “The Revenant” dare to ask the question: “How far would you go to get revenge?”, but It also demonstrates how far DiCaprio will go to finally win an Oscar. The five-time nominee, at times unrecognizable behind long hair and a beard caked with mud, ice and blood, grunts and screams more than he speaks actual lines. It’s a very physically demanding role. And while it’s impossible to tell in which scenes it’s actually DiCaprio and when his many stunt doubles may have stepped-in (credit the flawless editing), it’s safe to say that Leo got down and dirty during this shoot. Hardy’s Fitzgerald reeks of pure evil. The southern twang in his voice is slightly cartoonish, but his devious dialogue is irresistible.
Inarritu’s style is unmistakable here and, at times, it did bring me back to “Birdman”. He doesn’t film “The Revenant” in one continuous shot, but there are pockets of that technique, as well sweeping pans, creative camera angles, a character floating in mid-air and even a few fireballs falling from the sky. And while there aren’t a lot of them, the action scenes are some of the most impressive of the year. And the score is appropriately haunting.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Revenant” gets a B+. It’s certainly not for everybody, and the spiritual elements didn’t work within the story as well as they could have. But as a Western revenge survival thriller it’s a major success.
Running Time: 156 min.