The Revenant

The Revenant movie poster

Release: Friday, January 8, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu; Mark L. Smith

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

There are some things in The Revenant that you can’t un-see. Like the bloody confrontation between the Arikara tribe and Captain Andrew Henry’s men in the very first scene. Or a human body torn apart by monstrous bear claws. These moments transcend shock value, they go beyond the call of dramatic duty, depicted so authentically so as to become genuinely upsetting.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to his Oscar-friendly Birdman doesn’t get any less haggard as it plods onward, but the bloodletting slows just enough for us to catch our breath and get our feet back under us. Through a protracted adventure across harsh winterscapes, one that favors physical over verbal communication, Iñárritu’s epic vision confirms those who tough out the opening half hour will be well-equipped to handle everything Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass must go through in the ensuing two-plus hours.

Acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Alfonso Cuarón’s right-hand man, drops us into the early 1800s. It’s man against nature; us against the sprawling, unforgiving territory of the Louisiana Purchase. Even from a distance and in comfy theater chairs, feeling cold and exposed is an inevitability. Lubezki’s fiercely uncompromising artistry — a refusal to use anything but the natural light a pale sun and dusty, white-washed landscapes provide — ensures that of all the things we are going to feel, safe won’t be one of them. This is his movie as much as it is the director’s (and Leo’s). Iñárritu directs a script he co-wrote with Mark L. Smith, one that tells of a remarkable true story of survival and human courage.

The premise is simple, one of those one-line blurbs that could present a problem to those who weren’t enthralled by the chase in Mad Max: Fury Road; this is an all-out crawl against the odds as Glass hunts down the man responsible for killing his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) after Glass is mauled by a bear and left for dead by Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and his men. The Revenant isn’t interested in making things complicated because society at this stage isn’t exactly what you’d call civilized. People get by on raw bison liver and don the skin of bears they’ve just killed for protection from the elements.

Yet, there is a reward for enduring, not just in terms of its occasionally stomach-turning imagery. The bulk of the narrative pivots around Glass’ interactions with the great outdoors, the pace often slowing to a literal crawl but not once does it become lethargic. Of course, come the end we still hope the wait has been worthwhile — will we get that ultimate showdown between good and evil? How will justice be meted out? As much as we want to shield our eyes from the next confrontation, the trifecta of superior directing, acting and photography simply doesn’t allow it.

In a film like this, the protagonist is only as good as the villain he must face. While nature is in itself a force to be reckoned with, The Revenant has been gifted Tom Hardy, who plays John Fitzgerald, a thoroughly despicable fur trapper whose ideological differences with Glass’ headstrong explorer type drive the narrative forward. The tension between them can at times be unbearable, the look in Hardy’s eyes frightening and proof that Charles Bronson was merely practice for the big leagues. But the hostility of Native American tribes might well take the cake in terms of driving home the tragedy of what America once was.

So, what of Leo then? And why have I put off discussing him for so long? It should come as no surprise that some of the film’s best-kept secrets — many thankfully avoid ruination by not featuring in the overplayed trailers — hinge on what Leo does and does not do with his body. Imagining a role where an actor must do more to convey the physicality of early American life is nigh on impossible. As he inches his way from one life-threatening obstacle to the next, his Quaalude-induced spasms in The Wolf of Wall Street become a far crawl from true greatness. But Leo’s not just another decomposing body in a picture filled with death and decay.

Glass is a fiercely protective father. His paternal instinct is his trump card, a tenderness and passion for rearing his child the right way offering balance to a character with great potential to come across all too heroic and mythological. Whatever distances we try to put between ourselves and the brutes we face here, there’s no denying little has changed about the fact parents are willing to do anything to protect  their children from the indiscriminate terribleness of the world. DiCaprio is nothing less than incredible here. (I won’t say Oscar-winning lest I jinx the whole damn thing.)

It’s well-known The Revenant was a very difficult movie to make, though not for financial reasons. The cast and crew suffered brutal conditions. The shoot was described as “hellish.” If the actors look like they’re very uncomfortable in their respective scenes, that’s probably because they are. Many of the original staff didn’t see the project to its end. Shot on location in the Canadian Rockies and in Argentina, the film pulses with a vitality that’s impossible to stage. Natural beauty brilliantly disguises the film’s black heart. Every time I had to shield my eyes — I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but yeah, I did — I then reminded myself what a thing of beauty it was that I was witnessing.

things start getting hectic in 'The Revenant'

Recommendation: This film is not for the squeamish. Raw power, visceral imagery and blunt honesty combine with legendary performances to create a film that will be impossible to forget, much less imitate. I haven’t seen the Mexican auteur’s full filmography yet, but I have this nagging feeling he might have just hit a career high with this stripped-back and naturalistic production. A must-see for fans of DiCaprio. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 156 mins.

Quoted: “You came all this way just for your revenge, huh? Did you enjoy it, Glass? . . . ‘Cause there ain’t nothin’ gon’ bring your boy back.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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50 thoughts on “The Revenant

    • Absolutely! 🙂 I hope you enjoy it, or . . . well, shall we say — come out impressed by the movie! I’m not sure if ‘enjoy’ is the right word for a movie like this! lol

  1. Great review Tom. Couldnt agree more. I was simply blown away by this. So beautiful, brutal and haunting. Plus, Leo and Hardy’s sensational performances made it so fantastic to watch.

    • Thanks Khalid. It’s been awhile since I have watched something that feels so primal, and not just in terms of the graphicness of it but the performances. Just a really rewarding experience that pushes boundaries. I think its got a good shot of taking home a couple of trophies this year. We’ll have to see!

      • That’s a great way to sum it up. I loved the minimalist nature of the film and how much it concentrated on just being a stunning piece of cinema. More than a couple, I would say. DiCaprio, at least seems to finally have this one in the bag.

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  3. Nice review! Fantastic acting and cinematography. It was unreal. I also liked the surreal dream-scenes as opposed to some which think it’s sort of gimmickey.

    • Glad to find another supporter! I didn’t see the gimmick in those applications at all. It wasn’t so off-the-wall like Iñárritu’s trickery in Birdman, and it served a great purpose here. All in all, I fell in love with this picture despite its unrelenting grimness. The combination of the simplicity of the storytelling and the committed acting/general production was cathartic

      • Can’t put it better myself. Some people think its too grim or too simple, but how can the mind of a survivor be simple. There’s always a story to tell and I was fascinated with the whole process of Glass coming back from the dead. The film’s craft was also beautiful. I think some people in the industry can’t accept that Inarritu was able to serve up another masterpiece, which ironically, was better than the self-indulgent Birdman.

  4. Cool man, it’s great to see someone properly excited about this film…for various reasons a lot of bloggers I’ve read seem to be a little bit down on it. I’m afraid it’s another one of these posts where I can’t really add much as it’s not out here yet. It’s like we’re stuck in the 19th Century or something! Hopefully I’ll get to see it this weekend, if time allows, but I haven’t got a clue what I’m going to see…Room and Creed are also finally out here. First world problems eh?

    • Heh, yeah that’s the definition of! 😀

      The Revenant is a fucking incredible production. I get why people aren’t so much into it, it is a rather slow-burner for much of the middle bit but if you can get into the mindset of Hugh Glass, a task that isn’t too difficult in my book, then the entire outing manifests as one of the most invovling films I’ve seen in years. I absolutely loved, loved, loved it. Couldn’t settle for the 7/8 on this one. Had to go all-out. 😀

      • Excellent…I am excited. Can’t wait to see DiCaprio’s performance…I’m not too bothered about whether he gets an Oscar…he has continued to develop into one of the most consistent actors of our time whether he ever wins one or not! I’m sure he’d like it though.

    • I would be fine with both results! 🙂 The Revenant is so intense, and though I did love it too I must concede that I agree with some of the people on this thread saying they probably won’t ever sit through it again. That bear attack. . . ugh.

  5. Glad you got more out of this than I did mate. All I am reading is full-score marks for this, but I agree with an above comment, it was technically great but I won’t be watching it again I don’t think. Not enough was happening for me. I don’t think it will translate well onto a small screen either. But that’s just me! 🙂 Great read mate

    • I think that sentiment — “technically great but not rewatchable” — really applies to Mad Max: Fury Road as well. That movie was all flash and no resonance. So many people idolize that thing and it’s literally an out-and-back mission with a lot of brilliant effects wizardry and cinematography that smitten while completely distracting viewers from the fact that George Miller doesn’t have a clue about where to take Mad Max in the future.

      The same might be said about Foxcatcher. That film was dark, brooding and completely oppressive, but man was it absorbing. Or maybe I was more drawn to its darkness, I don’t know. But again, that’s not a film I would really want to watch again.

      When it comes to The Revenant, yeah it’s probably not something you’re going to want to sit through twice. I don’t think I could handle that bear attack scene again haha. But the most important thing to remember is the initial experience. How it makes you feel, makes you think. I’m not sure if any movie has a responsibility to have ‘replay value.’ Maybe movies like Mission: Impossible, and Star Wars do. But to say a movie isn’t as good as it could have been because it doesn’t lend itself to future watches is kind of a weird stance to take. But, to each their own. 🙂

      • I also think the same about Mad Max. Same with Foxcatcher. I’m not sure its a stance I take, but without fail the movies I love the most I could watch an infinite amount of times. I agree with you that the most important thing is the initial experience. Unfortunately for me that experience was frustrating! But I’m glad so many others are loving it, I seem to be on my own with this one.

        • It only makes sense that some of the best bits of cinema are works that reward on multiple views. Totally with you on that. Some of my favorites are ones I own on DVD and have watched countless times.

          It’s good to hear not everyone’s head-over-heels for The Revenant though, it keeps me thinking about things I may or may not have overpraised. 🙂

          • Hehe I’m always thinking about stuff I may have overpraised, I’m (slowly) building a top 25 list and I read some of my older stuff… I was waaay too nice to some films!!

            I’d love to hear your thoughts when I post it mate 🙂

    • I didn’t catch the Golden Globes but that’s exciting to hear. Let’s hope it at least gets nominated, for sure it deserves it and so does Leo for an absolute knock-out of a performance.

    • The work of Emmanual Lubezki is a character unto itself in The Revenant. His decision to use only natural lighting and to capture the natural world is mostly why we feel completely immersed in this gritty affair. You simply cannot overlook the cinematography here, it’s brilliant work

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  7. Meh, I respectfully disagree. I didn’t dislike The Revenant, but I sure didn’t see the face of God either. When I scored it, it got perfect 10s in direction, acting, cinematography, but scored a measly one for rewatchability. It did have a lot of beautiful imagery despite all that nasty violence but parts of it dragged on a little too long and I don’t really feel the need to watch it again. It’s a one-and-done deal.

  8. I haven’t seen it yet. Hope to catch it soon but surely this is DiCaprio’s year this year? I’m hoping Hardy gets some recognition too. He’s been consistently superb for years now. Great work mucker! 🙂

    • Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he doesn’t win. I think he’ll be nominated, but I’m kind of over the whole ‘woe as Leo, he hasn’t won an award yet.’ He’ll continue producing incredible work, and that’s really all that matters. It is a pretty ponderous situation how he’s gone so long without official recognition, but he’s not the only one in cinema history to be denied.

      That said, in a movie such as The Revenant, a movie that had two sold-out shows the night I tried to see it, anything is possible. This is a righteous movie. Crazy, violent and totally immersive. Hope you have a good time with it Mark!

      • DiCaprio has now unfortunately reached the point where even if he wins, people will be saying he only got it because he’d been snubbed so many times. The guy can’t win either way. That said, he has always been doing solid work and, like you say, he always will. Fabulous actor. I’m sure I’ll probably take to this film. It’s my kinda deal.

        • Yeah, when I say those things about him, in truth it’s just me masking my frustration over the fact. He’s one of the last few true-blue, honest-to-goodness thespians. You’re right; he’s basically in a no-win situation now. Hah! I look forward to reading your take on this rig.

          It probably should also be noted how good Will Poulter is in this too. I used to associate him with those Maze Runner movies, but he matures remarkably here

          • I don’t know if you guys got the kids comedy sketch show over there (I forget the name of it) but Will Poulter started out in it. It wasn’t great but I always remember him playing several different characters at such a young age and even then I knew he was a quality actor. It’s great to see him reach the big leagues. I always hoped (and somehow knew) he would.

            • Ah ok, cool. I’ll keep that in mind as I watch him in future productions. See how he expands himself. He wasn’t exactly a poor show in The Maze Runner but there’s a massive leap from those YA adaptations to this serious drama. Good for him.

              • Absolutely, man. He’s going from strength to strength. It’s great to see. You should check out “Will Bill” too. A great little kitchen-sink, working class comedy/drama from 2011. I really liked it.

    • Thanks a lot Eddie. On expectations. . . it’s funny, I really didn’t carry in too many lofty expectations for The Revenant. Whether that was accidental or not I’m not sure but I was just very curious about how it would all turn out. And as I left the theater, I was elated. It is a film experience unlike any other I’ve had. Amazing stuff here.

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