The Short- It is as beautiful as it is brutal but The Revenant is a fitting follow up for Oscar Winner Alejandro G. Inarritu and it could be the performance that finally lets Leonardo DiCaprio give an acceptance speech on Oscar Night. Not for the squeamish, The Revenant is at times hard to watch and nothing if not an immersive experience as Inarritu want's you to feel the cold wilderness and DiCaprio's performance is exhausting to even watch.
Maybe it was because the theater I watched The Revenant in was freezing cold, or maybe it was just Oscar award winner Alejandro G. Inarritu created an immersive, beautifully shot film but either way it's hard to watch The Revenant and not feel a part of it. It’s also difficult to watch The Revenant and as a film hound not feel many overwhelming feelings, you feel the pain of the inhabitants of the world and you also feel like maybe you watching something you shouldn’t be. The crowded Manhattan theater had more than it's share of out-loud exclamations, mostly viewers cringing in their seats while brutal violence occurs all around. Inarritu a master at making you feel involved in his films with his wandering camera and robust shots, the director also wants to show you as real looking violence as possible. This isn’t Tarantino blood and gore with heads exploding it’s watching Leonardo DiCaprio faceoff with a gigantic Grizzly bear and for 5 brutal minutes watching the actor get mauled to the point of death. The Revenant will have you question your own mortality, as you see this guy survive, bear mauling’s, getting nearly buried alive, getting shot and stabbed and getting thrown off a cliff and being forced to pull a Luke Skywalker/Han Solo on Hoth cutting open a Horse to keep warm, etc. Walking out of The Revenant film I heard pockets of conversations of people saying “I would have died after the bear attack” it might be a mix of beauty and brutality but it’s not something that’ll leave you quickly. The Revenant is a machine that is churned by it’s director and it’s lead actor and DiCaprio’s performance is brilliant but it’s hard to not feel exhausted by just watching this guy struggle to survive for the entire films run time (More on that in a moment). Inarritu brings realism and the basic survival need of his audience to the forefront and It makes the violence, the cutting and clubbing and whooshing of arrows feel all the more real.
The Revenant follows Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who along with his Native American son are helping a large crew of trappers find their way to a fort in order to sell the pelts they have made while also trying to dodge a group of vengeful Indians searching for a kidnapped family member. The Trappers are led by Captain Andrew Henry (The third major film to star Domhnall Gleeson this year) who trusts Glass to get them home while the mutinous Fitzgerald (A gruff and violent Tom Hardy). Hardy and Gleeson give excellent performances even if Gleeson is underused. Hardy is a top notch villain as we already know from a slew of other performances whether it’s the most recent Legend or The Dark Knight Rises even if this is Hardy at his most brutal since his breakout role in Bronson. Fitzgerald wants to get paid and in this lawless tundra he will do what others won’t whether that’s trying to put a near death Glass out of his misery or stabbing Glass’ son when he resists. It’s a cold wild country side, a lawless tundra, and everyone is trying to survive but in doing so everyone is killing to do so. From the opening moment their is a sense of doom, it looks like the exact place you would rather not be and the misery of the cold is outlined by the utter beauty of each and every shot.
When you look back on The Revenant in the years to come two things will pop out at you, one, we are seeing a director at the rise of his powers, coming off of Birdman Inarritu is mastering his craft but once The credits rolled the first thought was “I can’t wait to see what this guy does next”. The second thing is the heights Leonardo DiCaprio has gone to get that ever elusive Oscar win. It’s not desperation for the often snubbed actor but a sense of doing what’s necessary. He fully embodies Hugh Glass and does things he may not have even dreamed of for other roles, for example in survival he meets a fellow traveler protecting a dead bison from Wolves and the two men in one of the more surreal moments chow down on the dead bloody carcass of this dead bison rarely breaking eye contact. The controversial and horrible shoot for this filmed was highly talked about in the months leading up to this films release in what now seems like a purposeful and useful attempt to prove that DiCaprio will live in a snowy tundra surrounded by snow and ice and horrible conditions to make this film as realistic as possible. By the end of the film you have nothing but respect for the man and his methods, his Hugh Glass is vengeful, and while because there are stretches where it’s just DiCaprio when he does speak especially in a scene where he confronts Gleeson’s Captain Henry you see this man is ready to die for this. It’s as convincing a performance in a year where we have been treated to some incredibly good performances (Fassbender as Steve Jobs, Matt Damon as Mark Watney to name a few). Normally at this point in the Oscar calendar you have the yearly tradition of saying “Leo was good but he’ll lose to (Insert Actor Here) yet it’s early January, every Oscar movie has hit theaters at this point and everything’s coming up Leo. Whether he is granted his first Oscar or not the actor gives his best performance of his illustrious career and it’s in the 2nd bloodiest movie of the year (Tarantino and his Hateful 8 are #1) and it’s in one of the more overwhelming survival stories put to screen.