The Revenant, set in the early 1800’s, revolves around frontiersman and tracker Hugh Glass (Di Caprio), whom after being mauled by a bear, sees his son killed by another in his party (Tom Hardy) and is left for dead by his group, begins on fight for survival against the elements as well as his injuries in order to exact his revenge.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has proven to be one of these directors that puts the art of film as a priority when telling a story as can be seen in almost all of his English speaking films (Babel, 21 Grams, Birdman), but it wasn’t until Birdman that he really ramped up his unique stylised creativity. Proving that it wasn’t a fluke Inarritu shows the viewer this revenge tale in a variety of fascinating ways. It is often the raw brutality and test of strength, grit and gore that takes centre stage and while these are all the hallmark characteristics of a cliché testosterone flick, Inarritu brings us an artsy testosterone flick that is compelling to watch.
Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki teams back up with Inarritu and continues to impress after the success that he has had on Gravity and Birdman. It is only when you hear that the whole film was shot using only natural light that you can truly appreciate what an artist this guy is at showing the vastness of the snow covered wilderness. It must have been a nightmare to make. Never settling on one type of use of camera shot much of what is shown is beautiful but very real. For every wide angle there are close ups or tracking shots close to what is going on and it never feels like overkill, as a viewer you just keep on admiring what you are seeing in front of you.
For its 2 and a half hour run time it actually moves at a less than laborious pace and had more action than I was expecting. Action that is damn right filthy. There’s no holding back with the brutal realism on show and the scene with the bear attack has to be seen to be believed.
The acting across the board is excellent. Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter fill in the secondary character needs in spades and both bring about something that is incredibly grounded and believable to the story. Star of the show Di Caprio shows (what will probably be) an Oscar worthy performance where his range was clearly tested as he became immersed in his persona of ultimate survival. His persistent struggles with the challenges that he faces is what drives the story and his performance and what he lacks in the way of sympathy he makes up for an unwavering commitment for revenge. Finally Tom Hardy (who is audible) plays Di Caprio’s foil perfectly with a permanent cynicism that makes him unlikable all the levels needed to hate him.
For all its artistic merit and superb acting the film is flawed on an emotional level. There are few moments where as a viewer you can actually connect and sympathise with what is going on and while you can appreciate the story you never really care if anyone in particular lived or died. There is a need to latch onto the characters that is a missing piece from the story telling.
The film also attempts to use flashbacks and symbolic inserts to flesh out our protagonist a bit more but ends up failing in adding anything more than what we are told/seeing unfold. The use of them seemed a bit superfluous as the story doesn’t have the depth to warrant their inclusion.
Even though not perfect director Inarritu is on another level of filmmaking. It is not quite a masterpiece, more of an art-house epic, but is as good as an example of filmmaking as an art as anything else out there. Consistently great performances and it’s raw gory grit makes this revenge tale enjoyable to watch but it is ultimately it’s style over substance approach make it a film to admire rather than to love.