(156 Minutes, Rated 15)
If you’re looking for a light, breezy slice of escapism then The Revenant is definitely not the film for you. If you’re looking for a brutal and unforgiving piece of hypnotic cinema then roll up, slap your ten quid down, then maybe grasp for another fiver for a drink (clocking in at 156 minutes long you are probably going to need it).
The Revenant starts how it means to go on, with a bloody sequence in which Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his expedition, including his son (Forrest Goodchild), are attacked by the Arikara Indians who in turn are in search of one of their own. Goods and lives are scrambled for, arrows fly into limbs and jugulars, tomahawks are launched freely into spines, and Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and his men are lucky to get away. It’s a brilliant opening, setting the tone and characters in one fell swoop. It also showcases Iñárritu’s dazzling work behind the cinema and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki’s stunning cinematography, made all the more impressive by the fact it was all done using natural light. The exquisite tracking through the carnage makes you feel in the moment, right in there with Glass and his men and things get even more immersive as the film progresses.
After the now infamous bear scene, which in itself is an absolute trial to sit through and not squirm and grimace at every rip and growl, Glass is left in the care of Bridger (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, a bug eyed villain of delightful proportions), who have offered to stay behind to make sure Glass is giving a proper burial in exchange for extra coin.
And then….. Fitzgerald royally fucks him over. And Glass does not stand for this royal fuck whatsoever.
What follows is one man harrowing trek across an unforgiving landscape all in the name of retribution. We feel every scar, every wound, and every aching step as Glass tracks his way through the cold wilderness. In a really nifty bit of direction, we even see his breath cloud up the screen. It’s beautiful grimness at its very best.
Yes, there are some missteps; the hallucinations of his dead wife and some pretty weak attempts at deep philosophical meaning jar with the sparseness and brutality of the rest of the film, and the pacing, particularly in the middle third, can be a little slow and glacial at times. But honestly, the performances go to some way in making up for these indiscretions.
DiCaprio does so much with so little dialogue. His pain, fear and rage all come through in a series of grunts and grimaces. It’s a commanding physical performance, requiring just as much work and graft as if he had 150 pages of dialogue to learn. The whole film leans on his dirty shoulders and relies on his grubby, bearded face. If you don’t give a shit about Hugh you lose the film. And DiCaprio makes you give a shit. Hardy is wonderful as always, putting in a strong turn as the money grabbing, itchy footed Fitzgerald, and Poulter puts in an emotive performance as the naive Bridger.
We’ve all heard the stories of the grueling conditions, the ludicrous over-runs of schedule and budget, and the daft game of Chinese whispers claiming Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets raped by a bear (I can categorically say he does not). And of the firings, people walking off set unable to cope with director’s perfectionism and obsession with only using natural light, but the end product shows us that it was never in vain.
The result of all this madness is a raw and visceral work, and surely DiCaprio will pick up that much deserved Oscar statue (I mean the bloke got buried alive for it).