Part survival story and part revenge tale, The Revenant is one brutal cinematic experience. With graphic violence, slow pacing and an extensive running time, it’s a film bound to polarize audiences everywhere. Some will analyze it for years to come, while others will walk out of the theater halfway through. Although The Revenant certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, it’s also riveting entertainment that only a truly masterful filmmaker such as Alejandro González Iñárritu could have brought into fruition.
Leonardo DiCaprio dominates the silver screen as Hugh Glass, who you’ll quickly find has an incredibly ironic name reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Unbreakable. An 1820’s frontiersman, Glass is mauled by a bear in one of the most horrific animal attack scenes ever put on film. Some of his fellow men attempt to get him to safety. Tom Hardy’s dastardly John Fitzgerald, however, is all too eager to dig Glass’ grave. Glass is left for dead, but manages to survive against all the odds. The film then follows our protagonist on a vision quest of sorts as he navigates through the cold, unforgiving woods.
Iñárritu once again teams up with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who previously won Oscars for Birdman and Gravity. As we’ve come to expect from Lubezki, The Revenant is full of unbelievable sequences that must have been impossible to capture on film. The opening, in particular, is an extraordinary set piece that seamlessly puts the audience in the center of combat. As with every picture Lubezki contributes to, the camera feels like a character, that here acts as DiCaprio’s one constant companion. The American wildness is additionally very much a character, looking as threatening and cruel as it is beautiful and mysterious.
While we’re on the subject of DiCaprio, this has got to be the most physically and emotionally exhausting performance of his career. There’s barely a scene in the movie where Hugh Glass isn’t in agonizing pain. Most of the time, he’s in so much anguish that he can’t even speak. We feel every blow Glass endures, which only makes us want to see him pull through and track down the backstabbing Fitzgerald more. Tom Hardy is also chillingly effective as the villain, although at times he can be harder to understand than Bane. Should it just be a requirement that all Tom Hardy performances come equipped with subtitles?
The Revenant is very much in the tradition of other man vs. wild stories like All is Lost, 127 Hours, and the classic Sopranos episode, Pine Barrens. There are also slight touches of other Westerns like Dances with Wolves and True Grit here and there. On the whole, however, Iñárritu distinguishes his film with a look, tone, and atmosphere that’s all its own. At times the narrative can drag and the imagery can become a little too symbolic for its own good. Walking out of the theater, though, you’ll find that The Revenant packs a mighty punch. Even if it’s not always the easiest film to love, it is one that will stick with you.