Review: The Revenant (15, 2hrs 36mins)

The Revenant

Alejandro González Iñárritu must have a massive mantle piece…

…no, that isn’t a euphemism!  Give his name a Google and this visionary director has won the lot, even awards I have never heard of for his contribution to film-making.  That mantle piece of his must be bowing under the weight of it all!  Not bad for a chap who has only directed six feature films.  I saw The Revenant on the day of its release and by that time it had already won three Golden Globes.  I predict the awards will not stop there…

The Revenant is inspired by true events and tells the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a legendary explorer, who is part of a group of Frontiersmen that are attacked by Native Americans whilst fur-trapping in the American wilderness.  When the few that survive the onslaught escape, the company decides to go to their nearest outpost.  En route to the camp, Glass is brutally attacked by a bear and close to death, so Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), seeing that they cannot make the journey over the hellish, wintery terrain with the burden of carrying Glass’ broken body, entrusts Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and two others to wait behind with him until he dies to give him a proper burial whilst the rest of the company moves on.  The treacherous Fitzgerald tries to suffocate Glass and buries him alive, but when he leaves him for dead Glass manages to claw his way out of his grave driven by the fierce intention to survive and exact revenge on his betrayer…

…and aside from leaving out a few spoilers for those that have not seen the trailer, that’s about it for the plot.  This is by no means a criticism though.  The script alone would probably only make a decent enough short film, but what brings this story to life is Iñárritu’s immersive cinematography.  I have never seen such creative use of camera pans and tracks in any movie.  The way the camera weaves around the actors and the beautiful surroundings whilst capturing the heart-pounding action set-pieces is astonishing.  You feel like you are there amongst the gun fire and the arrows, and the camera seems to intuitively know where you would be looking if you were amongst this attack.  Studios take note; this is how you create an immersive film without the need for your audience to wear 3D glasses and pay through the nose for an inflated cinema ticket!  Despite its lengthy running time and bare-bones script, Iñárritu manages to keep a tight grasp of your attention throughout most of the film by wringing every last bit of tension, detail and interest from every lingering shot.  A good chunk of the film is just DiCaprio on his own trying to recover from his near death in the freezing cold whilst trying to find food and catch up with his betrayer with no one else to talk to, which sounds like a hard slog for even the most devout of DiCaprio fans; but it really isn’t!  The beauty and artistry of the cinematography makes you want to drink in every single frame as it captures the story better than what any script ever could.  Even during the more “talkie” scenes where Hardy is mumbling so much it would put Bane to shame, it doesn’t really matter as you can still follow the story.  The film transcends what little script there is with the way it is directed, shot and edited.  It shows an incredible array of skills from a remarkable film-making team.   I find I am running out of superlatives to describe just how mesmerising it is to watch.

DiCaprio plays a huge part in this film’s success as his performance is gritty and gruelling and full of realism.  You forget you are watching a Hollywood A-lister and think that you are watching Hugh Glass himself.  There are stories of how much the actors suffered on set whilst filming and you can see in DiCaprio’s portrayal that he sure did suffer!  This has to be his year to finally claim the Best Actor Oscar.  The always-reliable Domhnall Gleeson also deserves a mention for his realistic portrayal of Captain Henry, who manages to shine quietly whilst on screen despite this being DiCaprio’s stage.  I’m not the biggest of Tom Hardy fans by any stretch of the imagination, but he plays Fitzgerald well and is believable as this out-for-all-he-can-get-no-morals villain of the piece.

The film, however, is not a total success.  Whilst the first ten minutes of the movie is told creatively with only a few lengthy shots that twist and turn around the action with aplomb, the director does abandon this method of filming at times and only returns to it every so often.  It’s a shame as I would have liked to have seen the whole film shot like this as the crew did an exemplary job of immersing the audience into the narrative when it was filmed in this way.  It’s also very long indeed, and whilst Iñárritu and his team’s ingenuity and visual flair more than fills most of the running time in an entertaining and gripping way despite little happening on screen, my mind did start to wander about twenty minutes before the finale, despite how lovely the shots were and how good the acting was.  I’d seen enough of all that by this point in the film.  You can have too much of a good thing and this film would have benefitted from the mantra; “Always leave them wanting more”.  By the time the credits rolled my eyes were rolling with them!

Despite the few criticisms, I would recommend that you go and see this film on the largest screen you can find as it is a terrific, visceral cinematic experience.  This has already started to sweep up the awards and I’m sure more will follow.  Iñárritu and Co. will have to start investing in mantle piece extensions…

…stop tittering at the back there!





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