Written By Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
A year after his dialogue dense, one shot, small scale Oscar winning movie "Birdman" about a man searching to be relevant, Alejandro G. Inarritu brings us the exact opposite. A big budget, sprawling epic of wilderness survival and revenge. I for one was not very impressed with Birdman. The one shot aspect was too much of a gimmick and one that I think distracted critics from the rest of the story that wasn't being told to it's full potential due to the restrictions of the "one shot". Thankfully Inarritu decided against it this time around, saying it would have been impossible given the story and the fact that shooting outdoors and the scope of the film was so much larger than Birdman. I'm glad that is the case because instead we get a movie that uses plenty of sweeping steadicam shots that are breathtakingly beautiful. During the daytime, the shots are mostly at the end of the "golden hour" and into the "blue hour" which are usually the most visually pleasing times to shoot, something cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski knows all about, having won back-to-back Oscars for "Birdman" and Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" plus an additional 5 nominations including Cuaron's "Children of Men" and Terrence Malik's "The Tree of Life" which was also shot almost entirely during the golden hour.
The Revenant revolves around a group of hunters and fur trappers looking to make an honest living in the world of fur trading. The group is lead by Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) an expert in the area who is tasked with getting them to the trading post safely. Unfortunately for them, a native tribe named The Ree are near by and ambush them forcing everyone to fight their way to their boats with all the fur they can manage. It's brutal, intense and terrifying. Despite not being in 3D I actually flinched at an arrow flying past the screen I was so immersed in the action. It felt like a more "cinematic" version of the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan.
Escaping in their boats, they travel down the river and set up camp again. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is by far the least cooperative of the group. Feeling cheated by Glass who was supposed to protect them from ambushes, looks to get the post as quick as possible while he still has fur left. However Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) tells him to stick with the group and trust Glass to which he reluctantly agrees. Later Glass is out hunting when he is viciously attacked by a Grizzly Bear. This was another stand out scene that I was wincing in pain. Clinging to dear life, his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) finds Glass and with the help of the rest of the group straps him on a gurney. Fitzgerald says the best thing to do is to finish him off quick. The Captain refuses and they all trudge through the rough terrain with Glass in tow. That is until they hit a steep snowy mountain where it is nearly impossible to climb with him. Hawk, Bridger (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald stay behind to take care of him until backup can take him in safely. But Fitzgerald has other ideas.
Instead of helping Glass, he tries to choking him to death. Hawk manages to stop him but now instead of killing Glass, Fitzgerald kills Hawk while Glass watches helplessly. Bridger who was elsewhere, returns to camp and Fitzgerald says Glass is as good as dead, Hawk has gone hunting and can find his own way but they have to leave because the tribe that attacked them are on their way. Bridger, opposed to the idea but thinking there is no other choice helps Fitzgerald to half bury Glass in the ground and leaves him for dead. The only problem being, Glass isn't dead, and now he is out to avenge his son.
I loved this movie. It's beautifully shot, the acting is top notch, The aboriginals playing the Ree were all fantastic and much like Matt Damon in The Martian, Leonardo DiCaprio's character is put through the ringer as Hugh Glass. He went to the extremes to play this extreme man facing extreme conditions and defying death at every turn. Leo, like every role he plays, gives it 100% and absolutely deserved to win the Golden Globe for his performance. Tom Hardy was great as usual but his garbled southern accent was a little to fake for my tastes. It's one thing to be a Batman villian with a weird voice and another entirely when its a movie like this. Domnhall Gleeson on the other hand had a great accent with genuinely good acting despite blowing it as General Hux in Star Wars. The music was subtle but hit the right notes at the right times. Man vs nature, man vs man, man vs society and man vs self are all themes that run through this movie and come together to tell a gripping true tale from the 1800s.
Much like how Mad Max Fury Road had a straight forward well told narrative, so too does The Revenant. It's the performances and the characters that really make this movie stand out. There really isn't much to complain about. You could argue the movie is too long. It does take its time to let you stare at the beautifully captured vistas. Watching it I felt a little sad this wasn't shot on that gorgeous 65mm Ultra Panavison like "The Hateful Eight" just to squeeze every last ounce of greatness out of the already stunning photography that was shot on the new ARRI 65mm Digital camera which is the next best thing. The fight scenes are some of the most realistic and vicious you are likely to see. The audience, myself included, gasped at the brutality on display. It was handled very well, staying away from the grotesque and coming off as genuinely painful. The wilderness itself plays a huge role in the film and shows just how difficult it must have been to film. It's an exhausting and exhilarating experience that deserves to be seen in theatres on the biggest screen possible for the spectacle alone. It's not an effects driven action packed movie like Star Wars but its just as beautiful to see on the big screen as anything out there and with plenty of action and suspense to have you gripping your seat one minute and gazing in wonder the next.