In this modern age of audience know-all, rarely does a film come along that manages to truly capture the wonder and magic that is cinema. We live in an era in which superheroes rule the screen, and all the behind-the-scenes magic and wonder is open for all to see. Audiences are savvy to all various camera techniques, CGI trickery, and many other aspects that filmmakers employ to bring their stories to screen. But then along comes The Revenant. Please take everything you thought you knew about filmmaking and throw it out of the nearest window immediately.
Based on remarkable true events, it tells the story of fur trapper and expert tracker Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he guides a fur trapping expedition in 1820’s Midwest America. After being attacked by Native Americans in a gruelling opening sequence that harks memories of Saving Private Ryan’s opener, Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead. And that’s all I’ll tell you, for the beauty of The Revenant is the sheer experience of not knowing what will happen next.
Last year’s Oscar-winning Birdman director Alejandro G. Inarritu has delivered a film that oozes with majestic beauty. Adopting a wide-angle lens and choosing to film using only natural lighting lends The Revenant an almost surreal and haunting tone. You can actually feel the cold coming through the screen, and the long unbroken shots justmake each scene more powerful. It is simply absolutely gorgeous to look at. Inarritu leaves you wondering ‘How the hell did he do that?” scene after scene. The grizzly bear attack, for example, is jaw-dropping and intense, and unlike anything ever seen on film before.
The cast and crew endured a gruelling seven month long shoot in unforgiving minus 25 degree conditions, and it all shows on screen. The actors simply cannot fake this kind of authenticity, and it’s no secret that they all came close to breaking point - with DiCaprio even nearly walking away from the film for good. But the actors’ performances are all the better for it. Ah, the actors. What can be said about Leonardo DiCaprio that hasn’t already been said? He has proven time and again that he is the actor of his generation. And although he brings his trademark intensity to Hugh Glass, this performance is something entirely different altogether. DiCaprio has gone so far down into ‘method acting’ territory that even Daniel Day Lewis would think “fuck that!” He eats raw bison liver. He crawls inside a dead horse carcass. He is not simply acting a role; he is living the role, breathing the role. It’s a stunning performance, and should bag him his long overdue Oscar this year.
Tom Hardy is equally just as magnificent. Drawing inspiration from Tom Berenger’s hard man routine as Sgt Barnes in Platoon, Hardy reaches Bane-levels of mumbling. His half-scalped villain is menacing and utterly mesmerising to watch. Elsewhere, youngster Will Poulter shows his acting chops too. Always seemingly on the verge of tears, Poulter brings a warm sense of humanity to his Jim Bridger. And Domhnall Gleeson is convincing as frontiersman Andrew Henry.
But who are we kidding, this is Leo’s show. His performance, coupled with Inarritu’s jawdropping camerawork, is as good as it gets. The great news about DiCaprio though, is the knowledge that he just keeps getting better and better.
The Revenant fully deserves every single one of its 12 Oscar nominations. It’s beautiful, fierce, and breathtaking cinema. Alejandro G. Inarritu’s direction is absolutely sublime, and Leonardo DiCaprio flings himself into the performance of a lifetime. Definitely not to be missed.