Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Frontier Combat and Violence including Gory Images, a Sexual Assault, Language and brief Nudity
Directed by: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Written by: Mark L. Smith & Alejandro G. Inarritu
(based on the novel THE REVENANT by Michael Punke)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter & Forrest Goodluck
Just give Leo the Academy Award already! After so many nominations and disappearing into various characters for the past decade (some of them based on real people), the once-pretty-boy-turned-serious-performer has shown on numerous occasions that he’s one of the most talented actors of our time. Case in the point, THE REVENANT. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu (the guy who won some awards for BIRDMAN), REVENANT is the based on the true story of fur-trapper Hugh Glass. Though details have obviously been added and excised from Glass’s life to make for a more exciting and poetic story, THE REVENANT is a brutal work of beauty and vengeance. There’s so much to praise about this film that I’ll briefly jump into the plot and then tell you why I feel this movie is amazing.
In 1823 Louisiana territory, Hugh Glass and his fellow fur trappers have been ambushed by a violent tribe of Ree Indians. In an effort to stay alive as long as possible, the group trek out on foot through dangerous mountain terrain. Among the group, tensions rise between Glass and fellow trapper Fitzgerald over Glass’s son (who’s of Native American descent). After Glass is ferociously attacked by a bear, Fitzgerald leaves him for dead and kills Glass’s son to cover up his deed. This was bad move for Fitzgerald because Glass is not dead and becomes driven by revenge to stay alive. Braving the harsh elements, wild life, sinister fellow travelers and more, Hugh Glass slowly but surely makes his way across a long perilous journey to find Fitzgerald.
Utilizing the same cinematographer from BIRDMAN, REVENANT does not have the appearance of being one long continuous take. This being said, there are lots of lengthy tracking shots throughout the film. I simply could not tell where any editing had been made in spots (or how the hell they pulled some of these scenes off). The camera is constantly moving, but never to a degree that resembles shaky cam. In a ballsy move, blood, snow, and breath occasionally make their way onto the lens to give us a more intimate feeling of realism in what we’re watching. Inarritu is a stylistic genius, but there was a streak of astounding madness that also made its way into the film.
In an effort to keep things as real as possible, the film was mostly (if not entirely) shot in real light and it looks absolutely stunning. The wild, thickly wooded, and snow-laden locations are beautiful to behold in an otherwise bleaker-than-bleak tale of revenge. Apparently, shooting this film was a hellish experience for the cast and crew. I’d believe it because they all look like they’re halfway ready to freeze to death or faint from exhaustion in numerous shots. Leo especially goes above and beyond the call of duty in performing a lot of real feats on camera (eating raw bison liver, nearly getting hypothermia in a freezing river, etc.) to bring a convincing performance to the screen. It all works, because he disappears into the role of Glass. Not once, during this entire film, did I ever believe I was merely watching another performance from Leo. Instead, it felt like I was watching a real person braving harrowing conditions and a horrible streak of bad luck in order to survive. DiCaprio is that convincing.
Leo isn’t the only stellar performance as Tom Hardy is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get this rough, vicious, and thoroughly hateable Fitzgerald in his stead. Using a thick accent and intimidating body language, Hardy is unrecognizable. His scenes contrasted with DiCaprio’s survival sequences make for an exciting journey as we know that both men will eventually meet again and the results will be far from pleasant. Domhnall Gleeson (continuing a stellar track record for 2015) also pops up as the well-to-do hunting captain of the party, while young Will Poulter delivers the best performance of his career thus far as Jim Bridger (the naïve trapper left to guard Glass with Fitzgerald).
It should be no surprise at all to say that THE REVENANT is a brutal and bleak story. The bear attack is incredibly tense and had everyone in the audience squirming in their seats. The long sequences in which Glass narrowly escapes from Ree arrows as well as bullets from French trappers are insanely suspenseful and masterfully executed. A fight scene in the final third is among one of the roughest (in a good way) and most cringe-inducing that I’ve seen on film. I was actively wincing when an axe or knife got plunged into one the men going at it. For all of its brutality, the film is incredibly beautiful as well. These moments come through artsy dream sequences showing Glass reconciling with his lost son and dead wife, but the quiet stretches of the film are profound as well. THE REVENANT is a movie that says more through its dialogue-free scenes than most films say with all the words in the world. A fierce, unforgiving, and masterfully crafted triumph, THE REVENANT is one of the best modern Westerns in existence.