The Revenant (2015)

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Film review of the frontier/survival drama directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.

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Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu. New Regency/Anonymous Content/Appian Way/20th Century Fox et al. (15)

4stars - Very good lots to enjoy

Cast & credits

Producers: Steve Golin, David Kanter, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon, James W. Skotchdopole.
Writers: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu
Camera: Emmanuel Lubezki.
Music: Carsten Nicolai, Ryuichi Sakamoto
Sets: Jack Fisk.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge.

Synopsis

A frontiersman (DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820’s fights for survival after his group are attacked by native tribesman. Later, he is mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own team. Seeing his own son (Goodluck) killed by one of them, he resolves to kill the man responsible (Hardy).

ReviewThe Revenant poster

America (and Canada too, for part of this film was shot there, as well as Argentina) is vast. One has only to glance at any atlas to see they are huge places. I’ve travelled to America, albeit only to one part of the west, and that seemed to take an age to reach after traversing the West and central states.

But I don’t think I’ve seen a film which manages to convey the epic size of the country so well as this. No, not even The Big Country (1958) or How the West Was Won (1962). The Revenant, if nothing else, helps you to experience the almost never ending scale of North America.

The main cinema award nominations have now been announced and, as far as Oscar is concerned, Revenant leads the pack with 12 nods, including the possibility of another Best Picture and Director statuette for González Iñárritu, following his success last year with the thoroughly cinematic and pleasing Birdman.

The Revenant is less tricksy and technically precious than that film, but continues a number of stylistic touches and themes.

Iñárritu swaps the intimacy of a Birdman’s theatre where Michael Keaton battles ego-driven actors and his personal problems to ensure the survival of his cherished play as opposed to trying to survive in the unyielding hinterlands of 1820’s American frontier lands.

There are recurring shots throughout the film of trees reaching up toward the sky (either empty or, at the beginning, with vultures swirling over head) mirroring DiCaprio wavering on the edges of life and death. His long dead wife even floats above, encouraging him on.

The action cracks to a start within the first two minutes and Iñárritu again shows his skill at handling a moving camera which roves around the scene of an Indian attack as if in one continuous take.

There are editorial cuts in this film sure, but they are used sparingly as if he’s slightly afraid of the sound of the clapper-board.

It’s a camera merrily thrust right into the middle of events, blood spattered on it when people fight and the use of visceral, intense close-ups is disorientingly, dizzyingly effective. None more so than during the much publicised bear attack, replete with gory claw swipes, bites and bear drool. Edge of the seat stuff.

Complementing the switches between human action and DiCaprio’s solitary trek through the wilderness, the dialogue is intermittent, with machine gun rapidity or mere choked whispers.

It’s of the salty, manly, grizzled sort one would expect in a western: “I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I done that already” DiCaprio says before going back on the hunt for his tormentor.

My only reservation is this is a tad too long (at 139 minutes); there is the feeling of repetition at times, of misery heaped on misery for the sake of it (the guy sleeps in a horse! Enough already!), but on the whole the journey is well told.

DiCaprio may well nab his long-cherished (and, judging by the physical effort displayed here, probably well deserved) Oscar for Best Actor after this drubbing down he has gone through. It’s a grim, gritty, grey-tooth and spittle turn, the Hollywood version of ‘real acting’ that can win such things, but it is a mightily big turn and his groans, grunts, limping and suffering certainly help fill the wide open canvas the film is painted on.

Hardy is a strikingly characterised symbol of murderous, garrulous humanity for him to seek out, the antithesis of the frontier spirit.

See the official trailer on Youtube.

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