Review: The Revenant

 

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Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, based on the book by Michael Punke
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

Summary: In the early 1800s American west, fur trapper Hugh Glass is mauled by a bear and near death. Believing him beyond help, he is left in the wilderness to die. The Revenant tells the story of Glass’ determination to survive and seek vengeance against those who have wronged him.

The Revenant is kind of a masterpiece. Between this and Birdman, Iñárritu and his team have been dominating the last two years. 

revenant2I didn’t really expect The Revenant to have a complete story arc, I expected something a much closer to Tree of Life than Birdman. The Revenant was right in the middle. Much of this story is man vs. nature. However, as you see Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) progress throughout the film it suggests that maybe there is no line between the two; man and nature are one in the same. In some ways, Glass sort of transforms into the bear that nearly killed him. Glass is attacked by a mother bear protecting her cubs; as she would seek vengeance on him for attacking what is hers, Glass seeks vengeance on John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) for taking what was his. He wears the bear’s hide to stay warm, wades through the river to catch raw fish by hand, and sleeps and makes camp in a burrow or a cave.

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The line between the man and the animal has blurred. The Revenant juxtaposes spirituality and a the trust in an all-knowing God with the idea that life is chaos, and nature is beautiful but also senseless and brutal and amoral. Ultimately, I’m not sure which side of this argument that the film lands; however, it’s crystal clear how Fitzgerald feels about this topic.

THE REVENANT

In my favorite scene of The Revenant, Fitzgerald recounts a tale of when his father was separated from the a group in the wilderness and was forced to survive on his own:

“So he was starving, he was delirious, and he crawls up in this motte, like this group of trees out there in the middle of nowhere sticking up in this ocean of scrub. And he found religion. In that moment, he told me, he found God.
And it turns out, that God, he’s a squirrel. Yeah, big ol meaty one.
‘I found God’, he used to say.
‘While I was sitting there basking in the sublimity of mercy, I shot and ate that son of a bitch.'”

If there is a thesis for how Tom Hardy played this character, that monolog is it.

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Hardy is excellent as Fitzgerald, he was a revelation as the ‘villain’ of this story. His decision to play Fitzgerald as he did was smart; the character is written sort of…flat. You’re not meant to empathize with him in any way, the character doesn’t have much of an arc; but a lesser actor may have played this character as cartoonishly evil. With Hardy you get a solid performance of a character who acts purely in his own self-interest.

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Hardy and DiCaprio work very well together on screen. Leonardo DiCaprio is great as Hugh Glass and this is a role unlike anything we’ve seen him play before. It’s refreshing. He hardly speaks – his performance is almost entirely physical.

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He has a few voiceover lines, but otherwise, there is a very sharp focus on the sound of him breathing; the steady in and out that persisted even when he was too weak to move at all. Honestly, I have nothing negative to say about him in this role and everything positive has already been said. I expect him to be spectacular in everything at this point, so his performance in this came as no surprise.

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All of that being said, the star of this movie really is the cinematographer, Immanuel Lubezki. Every shot is so  beautifully framed. I know the film was shot in a million different locations, all of which have built-in picturesque scenery, but Lubezki used this canvas and transformed it into visual poetry. I’ve read some criticism that some found this ‘show-y’, that in some of these longer takes Iñárritu and Lubezki are just reveling in their own talent, to which I say – let them. It was beautiful. Aside from the framing just being a stunning spectacle, it served the narrative well. The film opens with a Saving Private Ryan-style attack on Glass’ camp. In this scene (and many others), the camera will stick tightly to one character – focusing only on their path; arrows or men with knives will occasionally come in to the periphery and they are equally as shocking to you in the audience as they are to the character you are tailing. Then, maybe the character you are following is killed and the camera seamlessly moves you to the next man’s perspective, usually without a cut. That is practically, theater – the staging is so impressive.

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There are many things to praise in The Revenant. The music was beautiful and perfect. The sound was great, the editing was nearly perfect (you can have a great cinematographer but if you have an editor that doesn’t know how to put those images together you’re screwed). My only criticism is that this could have been shorter. Two and a half hours is a long movie, and that length is almost never necessary, regardless of who is directing it. I can think of about a twenty minute segment that could have been cut from this film in order for it to fit the more comfortable two hour running time. That being said, I never realized how much time had passed; it doesn’t feel like 2 1/2 hours.

Verdict: A+, movies don’t get much better than this, folks. This is an absolute must see. Though, I fear that it may lose some of its ‘awe’ on the small screen. If possible, I would highly recommend seeing this in a theater; and if you get the opportunity to see it in 35mm, I hate you, because I would KILL to see that.


 

Oscar Considerations

Nominated For:
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio
Best Supporting Actor – Tom Hardy
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Visual Effects
Best Film Editing
Best Production Design

This is the favorite to win many of these categories, including Best Picture, Actor, and Cinematography. Technically speaking, The Revenant is nearly flawless. It’s biggest competition in most of these categories is probably Mad Max: Fury Road, which seems strange because these movies are very different. I’d be thrilled to see Iñárritu win Best Director again. It’s looking like Hank Corwin will be taking home the Oscar for Best Editing for The Big Short, which I’m in support of, but Stephen Mirrione’s work editing this film is a close second.

Won: 
Best Director
Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio
Best Cinematography

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