TWIM Reviews: The Revenant

THE REVENANT (Fox)

Dir. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Script. Mark L. Smith & Alejandro G. Inarritu

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

Plot: In frontier-era America, fur trapper Hugh Glass seeks revenge on the men who left him for dead in the brutal wilderness.

To a film nerd like me, the pitch for this period epic is tantalising. Take the Mexican auteur behind last year’s Best Picture, Birdman, add back-to-back Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and just to cap it all hire a Leonardo DiCaprio so hell-bent on convincing the Academy he is worthy of one that he’ll put himself through anything. Then, in the days before its release, The Revenant wins Best Picture at the Golden Globes, and it racks up no fewer than TWELVE Oscar nominations, the highest in this year’s field. Can you imagine me quietly screaming in the corner?

The Revenant 1HUGH GLASS (LEONARDO DICAPRIO) AND OTHER MEMBERS OF HIS HUNTING PARTY ESCAPE A VICIOUS AMBUSH

Last night I was scared that, if The Revenant didn’t turn out to be the movie it looked like it could be, I’d have to be the bad-news bear (not the last mention of bears in this review). But I don’t need to be – because this movie is nothing short of staggering. From the first frame, you find yourself plunged into the uncharted forests, barren, brutal and, in the hands of director Alejandro G. Inarritu and through the lens of cinematographer Lubezki, jaw-droppingly beautiful.

An opening ambush sequence, in which a company of fur trappers including Jim Fitzgerald, a Texan imbued with all the skill Tom Hardy brings to the frame, are attacked by the Arikara tribe, is up there with some of the best action sequences ever put to film. Their escape, led by respected navigator Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), is what leads to an astonishing second sequence – a bear attack so vivid and frightening that many pundits have incited controversy by accusing the scene of being rape-like. Captured in a single take, we see DiCaprio marmalised and ripped apart by a force of nature so realistically depicted that I felt its breath – and in an interesting move, saw it condense on the screen in a quasi-fourth wall break.

Revenant 4TOM HARDY, PLAYING ANTAGONIST JIM FITZGERALD, LEADS A FANTASTIC SUPPORTING CAST

Needless to say, with all of the buzz surrounding his performance, DiCaprio is superb as Glass. For quite a long period of the film, in which he is running on no more than fumes, DiCaprio is able to invest his entire audience into his plight through mere grunting and physical exertion. And once he begins to regain that strength, your desire to see him pull through against constant and unrelenting obstacles only continues to grow. With all the hype around Leo though, spare a thought for the supporting cast who are very strong also. Hardy is reliably superb as self-interested, talkative antagonist Jim Fitzgerald, earning an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor in the process on Thursday. And don’t forget young Maze Runner actor Will Poulter and The Force Awakens‘ Domnhall Gleeson, who turn their smaller roles into equally memorable characters – Poulter is especially impressive, and shows a skill which I have yet to see from him.

Mark L. Smith’s screenplay is light on dialogue but purposeful when needed, instead playing backing to the astonishing production on screen. Inarritu’s desire to shoot the film chronologically, as well as only using natural light and seeking out locations barely touched by humanity’s footprint, pays remarkable dividends, despite the huge $135m outlay Fox provided for his vision. Lubezki’s cinematography is staggering, combining the long action takes of Gravity and Birdman with beautiful shots of nature echoing his work with Terrence Malick. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score, snubbed by the Oscars for political reasons, is minimalist and decidedly ominous.

Revenant 3THE REVENANT FEATURES JAW-DROPPING VISUALS, THANKS TO EMMANUEL LUBEZKI’S INNOVATIVE CAMERAWORK

To cut to the chase, finding a fault with The Revenant is a difficult task. Although I admit I have not seen all of the Best Picture nominees as of yet (reviews of ALL of them are to come before Oscar night on February 28th), for me Inarritu’s epic, maybe even masterpiece, of unflinching and relentless brutality has shot straight to the front of the pack. With the exception of George Miller’s balls-to-the-wall action nirvana Mad Max: Fury Road, there is no film that can even dare match it on production values. Combine it with stunning performances, the mad genius of its director (who may become the first back-to-back Best Director in the modern era) and Lubezki’s truly remarkable camerawork, The Revenant should take home a host of golden statuettes in a few weeks’ time.

Revenant 5.jpgLEONARDO DICAPRIO, FRUSTRATED WITH HIS LACK OF OSCARS, HAS RESORTED TO THREATENING VOTERS

I cannot stress enough how special a movie this is – in an era of franchising and formula, to see a film this ambitious, original, and driven by creative talent who want to innovate in every area of filmmaking (all backed by major money from a studio giving its director carte blanche) is an especially rare thing to behold. Movies like this are nearly impossible to get made anymore, and this will only grow harder in the coming years as the film business becomes evermore cutthroat. But if this is recognised by the Academy how I feel it deserves to be, I really do hope The Revenant could not only mark a milestone in brilliant filmmaking, but a new focus on original and innovative movies.

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