Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (producer of the Oscar-winning Birdman and Babel) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have delivered what is arguably the most beautiful film of the past year – but it is not for the faint-hearted.
Set in the 1820s and inspired by actual events, The Revenant begins with a fur-trapping expedition guided by legendary frontiersman Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-Pawnee (Native American) son Hawk (up-and-comer Forrest Goodluck).
While scouting for food, Glass is attacked and mauled by a bear. Carrying the injured man across dangerous terrain, expedition leader Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) is convinced by disgruntled employee John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) that Glass is close to death.
Fitzgerald and another trapper, young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), are left behind, with the promise of a bonus, to care for him, but end up leaving him for dead in a shallow grave.
Glass miraculously survives all this and what follows is a harrowing story of survival. He must battle nature, the biting cold and violent Native American tribes – all while suffering infected wounds – to exact revenge from the men who abandoned him.
The Revenant is graphic and confronting, with scenes of murder and violence that leave nothing to the imagination and reach a peak with a re-creation of the Tauntaun scene from The Empires Strikes Back.
Lubezki, who has won the last two Academy awards for cinematography for Interstellar and Birdman, should be a shoo-in for the three-peat at this year’s Oscars. The Revenant is visually stunning, with amazing footage shot in some of the remotest parts of Canada and Argentina.
At some points I was convinced I was watching an Attenborough documentary; lucid dream scenes and landscape shots are particularly mesmerising.
The soundtrack composition is also stunning and pairs perfectly with the aesthetic.
But the film doesn’t quite fit together seamlessly, and appears very obviously broken down into four sections. This compartmentalisation is frustrating and prevents the viewer becoming completely absorbed by the story.
DiCaprio is excellent, having gone to extreme lengths – including sleeping in an animal carcass – to inject realism into his portrayal, which is already generating Oscar hype. Poulter, whose last notable role was in stoner comedy We’re the Millers, is also surprisingly good, proving himself well able to adapt to more serious content.
The best performance, however, comes from Hardy. His antagonist, John Fitzgerald, is the most human character – flawed and haunted, he could just have easily have been a pivot for a film.
The Revenant does have flaws, but is nonetheless a truly beautiful movie with a story that is harrowing, dark and gritty.
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