On a technical and visual level, The Revenant is a revelation. To anyone who appreciates film, it is a must see. To everyone else, The Revenant is a bit of a slog. But definitely a beautiful, impressive slog.
The Revenant is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and stars Leonardo Di Caprio as Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who gets left for dead in the 1823 freezing Montana wilderness by selfish companion John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), only for him to come back from the dead to seek revenge. Its simple, brutal, and effective. Granted there is nothing extremely original about a pseudo-western revenge story, but Iñárritu’s execution keeps the plot from feeling stale – for the most part. Particuarly in the second and third acts, the film often feels repetitive and an overlong runtime of 156 minutes makes that a harsh sentiment. The Revenant does often feel as if its dragging its feet along with Leo, which makes it a struggle to get through for less patient viewers. Although it does build up to a brutal and satisfying climax, there is a good chunk of Leo just trying to survive which can get tedious, although never to the point of true boredom. There are also a number of dream sequences that are supposedly designed to flesh out Di Caprio’s character, but instead feel jumbled and pretentious – yet again unnecessarily dragging out the runtime. That’s not to say The Revenant is a drag, but less patient viewers should approach with discretion.
That said, if the audience embraces the pace of the film, Revenant is very rewarding. This is one of the most stunning and impressive pieces of film ever accomplished. Not only was it an incredibly long and gruelling shoot thanks to the film’s setting, Iñárritu insisted that the only lighting used for Revenant should be natural. That is incredibly difficult if you realise that means each scene had to be shot at the exact time of day with little leeway. You screw a take, there goes an entire day wasted. And these are long, incredible takes. Although not at the ridiculous height of Iñárritu’s previous film Birdman, Revenant is almost exclusively done in long, several minute takes. Coupled with the freezing climate and limited shooting time that makes The Revenant a goddamn technical masterpiece. And it shows. Each take is almost perfect in its accuracy and movement, and the setting is absolutely stunning. Calling it breathtaking cinematography is selling it short. These frozen landscapes equally show nature at its rawest and its most dazzling. Its so immersive that The Revenant can make you feel cold simply by watching it. On both a visual and technical level, Iñárritu has created a masterwork.
The performances are all up to the task of surviving under Iñárritu’s ridiculous perfectionism. Leonardo Di Caprio is (as always) masterful in his depiction of the events Glass has to endure to get his vengeance. Its a very raw, physical performance with no tinge of ego or disinterest. His desperation to survive is almost as palpable as Leo’s drive to win an Oscar, and if he gets snubbed for the umpteenth time there’s probably going to be a riot. Deservedly so. While this may be Leo’s vessel, every other actor still impresses in Revenant. Tom Hardy’s character isn’t played as a stereotypical selfish greedy villain, but is far more believable and grounded than he should be, which helps elevate his performance and writing to another level. Additional actors such as Domhall Gleeson, Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck are also effective and memorable, which is an impressive feat next such powerhouse performances from Di Caprio and Hardy. The mere fact that they not only survived such a gruelling shoot and all still delivered impressive performances means each and everyone one of them deserves respect.
Yes, The Revenant is a slog. Yes its not perfect. But the sheer feat accomplished by the cast and crew in the creation of this film is enough to warrant a viewing. Iñárritu is a true auteur and this coupled with Birdman marks him as one of the greatest new talents of the next generation of film-makers. Stunning work. Now, give Leo the damn Oscar.
General Audience: Recommended
Film Buffs: Must-Watch