Friday, January 29, 2016

The Revenant [film review]

Released theatrically on January 8th

The Revenant, which leads this year's Oscar nominations with 12, may well be the least colourful film you'll ever see. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu follows up 2014's much-celebrated Birdman with a loosely factual man-versus-nature epic tale set on the 1820s American frontier, based on the 2002 book by Michael Punke, The Revenant: A Novel Of Revenge ("revenant" means "a person who returns after death"). Iñárritu and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, took the unusual and incredibly ambitious step to shoot the film entirely in natural light, a decision fraught with all sorts of peril considering 90% of it was to be shot outdoors on real locations just outside of Calgary in the winter. As a result, almost all of the film is set amongst stark white frozen landscapes beneath grey skies, adding an extremely effective element of bleakness to the struggle of the film's protagonist, Hugh Glass. As Iñárritu matter-of-factly told The Hollywood Reporter, "If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit."  

Glass, a real-life fur trapper and frontiersman, is portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in one of the strongest leading performances I've seen in a film in some time, a feat made even more notable by the fact that the actor relies on a strict economy of dialogue for the role. DiCaprio's character experiences the most brutal weather conditions I've ever seen a Hollywood star endure on screen, which weren't simulated in Iñárritu's winning quest for authenticity...and a shit-free cinematic experience. The A-lister spends just about his entire screen time in conditions that are cold, wet, or frequently both. Forming the core of The Revenant's story is Glass' struggle to survive the elements and exact revenge on the men from his fur trapping expedition who harmed a member of his family and left him to die following a bear attack. That attack is one of the most extraordinarily constructed CGI scenes I've ever seen (you may be detecting a pattern here in my opinion of this film). It lasts a little less than five minutes, is edge-of-your-seat gripping, very difficult to watch, and somehow never shows its technical seams. You will absolutely believe DiCaprio and a 700 pound grizzly shared screen time in a life-or-death battle. Iñárritu and his team's technical prowess extends to many other scenes throughout the movie that employ complicated tracking shots and CGI wizardry, as well as unique camera shots that come off as refreshing and not gimmicky (one of them has the camera in so tight on an actor's face that his breath fogs up the lens). The Revenant also benefits from solid supporting work turned in by the always-reliable Tom Hardy as the brutish John Fitzgerald (Glass' main adversary), Will Poulter as a member of the fur trappers, and Duane Howard as a Native American seeking his own vengeance. 

Despite a climax that falls a little flat and the credulity-straining levels of physical and environmental abuse that DiCaprio's character is subjected to (which conversely make for highly entertaining viewing), The Revenant stands as a compelling piece of work from a bold filmmaker, with a standout and vanity-free performance from DiCaprio.

Rating: A


  1. Hi Drew. I liked your review, good assessment. Great movie, maybe a little too long.

    1. Thanks. I was on the fence about it being a little long, but I enjoyed the film so much that I decided it wasn't a big issue for me.


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