Frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the guide of a fur expedition in the American wilderness. Despite his extraordinary knowledge of the terrain, hunting and survival skills, he becomes the victim of a savage bear attack. Betrayed and left for dead by expeditor Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass sets out on a quest for revenge.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman (2014), Biutiful (2010)),The Revenant has earned 12 nominations at this year’s Academy Awards. One of these of course is the Best Actor! (Leo’s lack of an Oscar has given birth to countless memes, and doubtless this year’s ceremony will produce many more.) Indeed, DiCaprio’s performance does not fall short this time. The story is right with overtones of Braveheart; and Leo gets a lot of space to speak as little as possible and grunt as much as possible. After he won at the Golden Globes, hopes have also gone up for his Oscar.
The movie caused a number of controversies upon its early screenings. Drudge Report claimed that Leo got raped by the bear twice, and the news spread like fire, only to be entirely denied by 20th Century Fox a day later. Another controversy came from blogger, Jeffrey Wells. He commented on the brutality of the film and ended his comment with a “forget women seeing this.” This sparked an immediate reaction, drawing condemnations from so many women that he later had to apologize. Whether intentional or not, these served as great PR for the film.
Partially due to this, and partially due to an extremely promising trailer, I went into the movie theatre with a real appetite for something good. The Revenant did not disappoint. Iñárritu takes his audience on a long journey of experiences. It is grimy, gritty and bloody. He does not hesitate to show the wilderness in all its savage glory. It is almost as if one could feel the soil in Glass’s beard, the blood in his mouth and the freezing water on his hands. A big chunk of this immersive experience can be attributed to the brilliant camerawork. The Native American ambush sequence at the beginning of the film goes on and on in an impressive long take (of approximately five minutes.) The camera twists and turns, constantly shifting perspectives and navigating through the chaos in a way one can only experience in reality. Though the ever-spinning camera initially made me dizzy and got me worried about sitting through the rest of the film, the movements gradually calmed down. The more immobilized Glass became, the more the camera went static, conveying the entrapment of a man who is broken and sick just as well as it had conveyed the feeling of being lost in chaos.
The Revenant is especially notable for its excellent interaction with nature. Lately Ecocinema has been somewhat disappointing due to its tendency towards fetishizing the landscape. The Revenant stresses the meditative qualities of the wilderness. The opening sequences give preference to close-ups of the flowing river and the darkness of the woods as opposed to spectacular aerial shots. The soundtrack, too, prefers to go for the simplicity of the birds and cicadas as opposed to sweeping the audience with romanticism. Glass’s complete immersion with nature is stressed at every opportunity; and this immersion is not the immersion of a tree hugger. It can be both loving and savage; it portrays a dance between life and death. DiCaprio swims in ice-cold rivers, lies in the earth and takes cover in bloody animal hides. This makes a big difference in the audience experience. You are not only going along with Glass but also feeling along with him—and note that all of this is accomplished without the slightest hint of 3D. Therefore, this time, I have nothing but praise for Iñárritu. If you are looking for a Hollywood action flick with some furs, The Revenant is the wrong place for you; but if you are in search of something paced, tense and unsettling, you are at the right address.
The Revenant comes out in UK cinemas on January 15th.