Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor?
Beautifully capturing the bleak but majestic landscape and the torturous survival narrative; hauntingly scored with strikingly evocative beats; and driven by Oscar-worthy performances, The Revenant is unmissable.Based both on the 2002 book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, and on the true story that inspired it, we follow the desperate survival exploits of wounded fur trapper Hugh Glass, struggling through treacherous, freezing conditions hundreds of miles from the nearest outpost. Originally, rather counter-intuitively, to be played by Samuel L. Jackson under the direction of Park “Oldboy” Chan-Wook, and then Christian Bale under John “Lawless” Hillcoat’s direction, it would eventually be brought to life with DiCaprio under the hand of acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu. Inarritu’s ‘death’ trilogy – Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel – earned him his place as an acclaimed filmmaker, whilst his subsequent pieces – Biutiful and Birdman – only cemented the position. This, however, is arguably his masterpiece.Losing crew members along the way, with even the main cast members struggling to endure the hostile filming conditions (DiCaprio himself stated that this was the hardest shoot of his career, although Hardy was probably still debating which was the worst out of this or Mad Max: Fury Road), this was by all accounts a hellish shoot: even principal photography was reportedly switched from Canada to Argentina because the former was too warm. Insisting that no CG be used to enhance the locations, and upon the film being shot chronologically even though this would be much more costly and time-consuming, the film ended up doubling in budget struggling to find new backers, and taking months longer to shoot than anticipated, even almost missing its slot to be an Oscar contender. It was all worth it though.
This is a beautiful, mesmerizing film, shot with sweeping panoramic long takes that transport you into the thick of the harsh, unforgiving environment, throwing your into a volley of arrows, into fast-moving rapids, or even the clutches of a raging grizzly bear. It’s hard to know where some of Inarritu’s shots begin or end, breathtakingly captured through the lens of his now-legendary cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki – who similarly shot the long-take-favouring survival stunner Gravity, and the one-single-take Birdman. Whether setting the stage in the unusual and rich environment with his opening few shots, or taking in the breadth of scope to a circle-your-wagons attack from all around by a Native American war party, Lubezki delivers 360-degree wonder, and Inarritu ensures that every piece is in place for every single shot.
Bracing and breathless, Inarritu takes you to hell and back.
With an atypical score from electronic composer Ryuichi Sakamoto instilling the quiet moments with impending dread, I wouldn’t be surprised here if many end up favouring his powerful, haunting (heart)beats to the engaging but less effectively sparse offering from the legendary Morricone for Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Either way it penetrates the piece, both accompanying, reflecting and standing apart from the rest of the film, as if the production was actually an organic creature and you were genuinely listening to the rhythms of its heart.
However the heart and soul are clearly embodied in DiCaprio, who will undoubtedly finally win that elusive Best Actor Award that he could have won so many times before (most deservedly for the highly underrated Scorsese masterpiece – No, not The Departed. No, not Wolf of Wall Street – The Aviator). Indeed fans of his stunning portrayal of the enigmatic, eccentric, troubled pioneer Howard Hughes will probably see many similar traits in his performance here, not least in the physical trauma that he has to endure. Here DiCaprio’s art comes though an almost mute performance of grunts and groans (he speaks Pawnee for much of his actual dialogue) as he weathers all that the narrative (and, indeed, by all accounts, the shoot itself) calls upon him to endure. He wears the pain and torment on his face, with every desperate, wheezing breath through clenched teeth.
Almost as impressively embracing his part as the venomous antagonist, Tom Hardy also earns his Oscar contender stripes here in a strong supporting role that is fleshed out and well-formulated, with Inarritu affording enough time for both characters to developed naturally within the environment, whilst further support comes from the likes of Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Will Poulter (Son of Rambow, Maze Runner).
For once, perhaps a film deserving of a multitude of Academy Awards will actually win them.
There are plenty of nods to Malick here – not least in the general sweeping, elemental cinematographic style, but more directly towards his underrated and beautiful The New World – but Inarritu’s work is oftentimes arguably even more accomplished, further eliciting comparisons to other powerful survival flicks like the Redford’s All is Lost and its own unlikely companion piece, the aforementioned Gravity, whilst – more obviously – reminding of wilderness survival films like The Grey and The Edge, more traditional revengers like Point Blank and Oldboy, similar period adventures like The Last of the Mohicans, and even other oblique survival-when-you’ve-lost-everything epics like Gladiator. Along with the best of them, The Revenant excels at drawing you into a harrowing, exhausting voyage; into this harsh, hellish environment where anything from war tribes to the weather can turn on you at any stage. It’s a hell of a ride, and worth every painful minute of it. Highly recommended.
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