2015 / Director. Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE REVENANT opens up with an astonishing sequence that immediately accosts the audience with a stark and relentless confrontation, and makes it abundantly clear that we are in the hands of a maestro. The director is Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose previous film BIRDMAN won last year's academy award for Best film. That film showcased a precisely choreographed cinematography, which elevated what was an otherwise simple premise. He has applied the same method to this new film... on a much grander scale.
In the cold mountainous winter-land of North America, a party of fur-trappers are ambushed by natives and over thirty men are killed. With the indians on their trail the surviving men flee into the wilderness, leaving behind the valuable pelts that would have secured their income. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a man with a half-cast son, and Tom Hardy plays Tom Fitzgerald, a merciless man who shuns authority. When Glass is mauled by a grizzly bear, Fitzgerald offers to stay behind to watch over him until help arrives. With no intentions of keeping his word he murders the son and leaves Glass to die in a shallow grave.
And so begins a long and arduous tale of revenge. And I do mean long. The story was based on a true account and was previously adapted in the 1970 film MAN IN THE WILDERNESS starring Richard Harris. There is no question that it is a compelling story, and Iñárritu's style certainly does capture the brutality and isolation of the landscape. The frigid environment is beautifully shot, with a variety of styles used to alternate between the majestic awe of the region and foreboding harshness that makes captives of the characters. The bitter chill transcends the screen and casts a shivery frost across the viewers. It is, in every technical regard, a stunning film.
Unfortunately THE REVENANT's undoing is its duration and pacing. This is a long film; much longer than it needs to be and it feels longer than it actually is. At a 156 minutes it overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes (if not more) and the strong first act, along with the the bold final act, book-end what feels like a dozen middle acts. Clearly it is a survivalist film as well as a revenge western-thriller, and so it is necessary to present a realistic series of events. However, Glass's story would have been more emotive were his methods of survival reduced to only those, which expedite the story.
On the flip-side, fortunately the film boasts an ensemble of excellent performances, with DiCaprio delivering yet another knock-out performance. In my mind he is one of the most accomplished and consummate actors of his generation and THE REVENANT is highly likely to earn him an Oscar nomination. Tom Hardy, on the other hand, delivers more … um, Tom Hardy (with a pinch of young Jon Voight). I like the guy and he does offer a commendable counter-balance to DiCaprio's character, but his performance feels contrived. The supporting cast is excellent with Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson (son of Brendan Gleeson) giving the film its sense of humanity. Domnhall is popping up everywhere at the moment (EX MACHINA, FRANK, THE FORCE AWAKENS) and he's clearly on his way to becoming an A-lister. Lucas Haas also appears in the film, although his role is relegated to the background and his presence seems like a huge waste of talent.
Watch THE REVENANT for its brilliant technical accomplishments and an amazing lead performance. Immerse yourself in its textures and its beauty and embrace its savagery.... but be warned, that it's a strenuous film that demands your patience.