Last year Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu astounded audiences with Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and cemented himself worldwide as one of the most important and interesting directors of the modern age. That’s a big and grandiose statement but I believe it to be true. His style of storytelling is intriguing as are his methods and I, as well as most of the cinema loving public, couldn’t wait to see what was next. Now that I’ve seen it I can tell you, this master filmmaker did not disappoint.
Coming only a year after the Best Picture winning Birdman, The Revenant is a gruelling and punishing survival film that will take your breath away with each beautiful frame of film as you root for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass the whole way through. You will never experience anything like this film, it really is a one of a kind, made right in our back yard here in western Canada.
The film is set around the early 1800s in the then uncharted wilderness of America – I figure to be near or in Wyoming. Hugh Glass is an explorer who is guiding a group of fur trappers on a hopefully lucrative expedition with a native teen Hawk, who he addresses as his son. Right at the start of the film their camp is attacked by a band of indians, forcing the group to flee on their boat – losing most of their pelts as well as more than twenty men in the process.
They float downriver before abandoning the boat and try to make their way up and over the mountain to their fort. While the rest of the camp is situating for the day, Glass goes to hunt some food in the forest when he is viciously attacked by a bear, who mauls him badly before he is able to kill it. Immediately, the men find Glass and stitch him up, unsure if he’ll make it through the night. The man in charge of the expedition, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), refuses to leave him behind and the group continues with Glass now being carried.
Soon, the burden of carrying Glass becomes too much to climb with and Henry is forced to make a decision. He chooses to leave Glass behind with three men and continue to the fort so they can send reinforcements and so the explorer has time to recover. Hawk stays behind, as does Bridger (Will Poulter), a young and idealistic trapper; and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), an angry criminal running away from debt who was half scalped by an indian band years before. Fitzgerald’s motivations don’t include caring after the injured Hugh Glass and make him do things that change the two men forever.
For all the brutal and visceral nature The Revenant has, it is a mesmerizing piece of film that is hard to look away from. Inarritu chose to only film the movie in natural light, causing some lengthy delays in production but the payoff is definitely worth it. To see a shot where the sun rises and slowly fills in a valley behind the action is truly a cinematic highlight this year. With this film, he is clearly in a whole new echelon of filmmaking. I will follow this guy’s films anywhere.
Now, I know the major question is on everyone’s lips: what are Leo’s Oscar chances? Well, in my opinion (and lots of others) any Academy Award the he gets will just be one to make up for the one he didn’t win for playing Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. That being said, I would absolutely love for this to be his year and for him to be rewarded for The Revenant. The sheer amount of energy that he put into this should clearly indicate how much he deserves it. I’ve always called him our generation’s Jack Nicholson, but let’s face it: Jack would have never done this movie. Points go to Leo because he didn’t even flinch.
As much praise as Inarritu and DiCaprio are receiving for this film, and will continue to do so as we move towards through awards season, I wonder why no one is talking about Tom Hardy – who gives a gruff and villainous performance as John Fitzgerald. There are a few scenes where he gives these deep and mumbly monologues to Bridger that are deeply compelling. If anyone’s had a really banner year in 2015, for the male component it has to be Hardy (For the ladies, I refer you to Alicia Vikander).
As this film sees the mass public today, I will say this film is pretty polarizing. Not everyone is going to love it, some may complain about the runtime. To me, this film is an expedition in itself, a ride through a frozen frontier that will always stick with me. In all the Hollywood fluff, sequels, prequels and reboots, it’s still nice to find a big budget art film that will knock you down continuously. I applaud directors who push their boundaries and cast members who push their limits. The Revenant is a win on all levels and I hope it is celebrated. A clear five out of five.