Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
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…big, brave, and borderline deranged filmmaking…
Obviously wanting to spread his cinematic wings after the largely interior Birdman, Mexican writer/director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, goes into the wild with The Revenant, shooting almost entirely on location, and dragging forth a visually stunning but gruesomely primal tale of survival and revenge that recalls masters like Sam Peckinpah, Walter Hill, Werner Herzog, and Terrence Malick. In this mini-epic of dirt, grit, and blood, beauty and horror bash against each other at will, and the human spirit is revealed in all of its nobility and brutality. And at its centre is a group of actors who literally go to the bottom of the well to deliver a collection of highly committed, deeply felt performances that go beyond mere acting and push into something else altogether.
Working with limited dialogue, Leonardo DiCaprio wholly inhabits the character of Hugh Glass, an experienced wilderness tracker working as guide to a bedraggled crew of fur trappers plying their trade in The Rockies in the 1820s. After being mauled by a bear (in a staggeringly rendered scene of protracted, horrific violence and physical violation rivalled only by Monica Bellucci’s desecration in Irreversible), the barely alive and practically mute Glass is then betrayed and left for dead by Tom Hardy’s trapper, John Fitzgerald, a revoltingly insensitive and avaricious misanthrope who rates as one of the most despicable villains to metaphorically twirl his moustache in years. His body battered and eviscerated, the determined and highly skilled Hugh Glass then begins a long and torturous journey back to what passes for civilisation, where he hopes to have a few angry words with the aforementioned John Fitzgerald…
As a technical achievement, The Revenant is a work of art beyond compare. The images conjured by cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, are painterly but horribly immediate, bathed in natural light and literally shimmering off the screen. The special effects are expertly woven through this visual tapestry, with the CGI blending in seamlessly with the natural surroundings, creating a sense of breathless realism. And while not previously a proponent of action cinema, Inarritu crafts a number of set pieces that will blow audiences back in their seats, with an early attack on the trappers by a Pawnee tribe rattling with a Saving Private Ryan-style mix of horror, confusion, and body-blasting violence. At 156 minutes, however, The Revenant is tough going, and screams out for a judicious edit. Hugh Glass’ journey is a long and painful one, and at times, the film mirrors that too intently, with this broken but dogged mountain man’s litany of hardships becoming almost unbearable to witness. When he climbs into a gutted horse carcass for warmth, the damage is near irreparable. But with that agony comes equal ecstasy: it might be an endurance test, but the rewards of The Revenant are plentiful. This is big, brave, and borderline deranged filmmaking, reaching with arms outstretched for the heavens while its boots are stuck in the mud and the muck.