Release date: 15 January 2016
Running time: 156 min
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson
The silence in the woods is suddenly punctured by a guttural roar and the thunderous pounding of paws on rock. Before he knows it Hugh Glass – scout guide for a fur trapping expedition pursued by the enraged Arikara tribe – is being brutally mauled by a protective mama bear in the snowy hills of Montana. Forced to go on ahead without Glass, the hunting party leave him in the care of his Pawnee son Hawk, gentle youngster Jim Bridger and the volatile and avaricious fur trader John Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald grows tired of waiting for Glass to die he murders his son and leaves him buried alive in a shallow grave under the pretence that a raiding party is impending. Haunted by the death of his wife and son, Glass drags himself from his grave and embarks on his quest for revenge. After last year’s Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu has once again garned plenty of Oscar attention for this bleak and relentless revenge Western.
Despite being motivated by revenge The Revenant is most compelling as a survival story. Horrifically injured and stranded miles from any kind of help, the extraordinary lengths DiCaprio must go to to survive are often brutal. At its best The Revenant comes across like The Martian’s meaner older brother; while Matt Damon is growing potatoes to the sounds of ABBA, Hugh Glass is scrabbling in the snow for edible roots and feasting on slabs of raw meat.
As well as having a cracking soundtrack and some of the most electrifying cinematography of the last few years, there are some impressive but gruelling perfomances . DiCaprio gives an intensely committed performance in the lead role of mountain man Hugh Glass, his face twisted into a near permanent grimace as he wheezes and rasps his way through the inhospitable mountains. Similarly, Tom Hardy gives another intensely magnetic performance as the rage-filled trapper John Fitzgerald, there’s not many actors out there as willing as he to be so fantastically unlikeable. Elsewhere, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter offer strong support as men pushed to breaking point in the face of uncaring nature.
Yet the real star of the show is undoubtedly the photography by Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki. A striking combination of the epic and the intimate, reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and The Master, the cinematography on this picture is utterly majestic. Packed with long, elegant takes that glide around and amongst the action, the camera is more a participant than an observer. Filmed almost entirely with natural light there’s a wonderfully hazy, dusky quality to the visuals; it finds beauty in the bleak and poetry in the visceral. It’s the kind of camerawork that was impossible before the advent of lightweight digital cameras and offers a lovely counterpoint to the formal classicism of cinematographers like Roger Deakins.
Be under no illusions however, The Revenant is not a perfect film; it’s a little baggy in places and at times it could do with being a little more focused. Yet, there’s enough brutal beauty and superlative filmmaking here to make this a must see film. 2016 has a lot to live up to.