In the opening hour of The Revevant there are two phenomenally produced scenes- the first, the movie’s opening sequence is a Saving Private Ryan-esque battle sequence by a river between a group of Trappers and some Native Americans- the scene is visceral, gruesome, and a clear statement of intent from Inarittu. The second is the much discussed scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass is mauled by a bear. The scene takes your breath away as Glass is beaten down under the weight of the mighty beast. These two scenes are two of the finest to hit cinemas in the last 12 months, unfortunately what surrounds them fails to inspire.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu took both the Best Director and Best Picture statuettes at last year’s Academy Award ceremony and will be hoping to complete a record breaking double this year by doing the same with The Revenant. The story of frontier man Hugh Glass’ revenge against a fellow trapper after being betrayed and left for dead.
Much has been said about both the horrid conditions in which The Revenant was filmed and also about Leonardo DiCaprio’s commitment to his lead performance as Glass. There is no denying that The Revenant is a visceral movie- one that will make you cringe at the conditions through which Glass perseveres and Inarittu, with the help of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki paints a horrifying, yet equally beautiful landscape. But for all it’s technical grandeur and cinematic beauty The Revenant feels somewhat hollow, let down by a sluggish plot and a distinct lack of character and thought provoking theme.
Comparisons to Inarittu’s Oscar winning Birdman seem necessary here. The success of Birdman, was, in the eyes of many down to its tracking shot gimmick and nothing more but that is not the case. If you were to strip away the technical elements that made Birdman such a brilliant movie you would still be left with an involving plot with well written characters and some interesting thematic ideas to explore. Strip down the same from The Revenant and you don’t really have any of that, instead you have a simple tale of a man seeking revenge against the man who wronged him- entertaining enough but not enough to justify a 2 hour 36 minute run time.
Whilst The Revenant is a tale of survival and revenge it never really delves much deeper into things. Sure we see Glass do some pretty horrifying stuff but because the character is let down by a script that really does little to develop him he just begins to come across as an extreme version of Bare Grills; his son is murdered and that gives him motive but with he spends the majority of the movie grunting and personally I never felt like I was on his side all that much. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but this dish was too cold for my liking.
The big question coming out of The Revenant for most casual movie goers though is will it finally be the film that sees DiCaprio take home an Oscar? The answer looks at the moment like a resounding yes, whether it deserves to or not is another question altogether. It’s a physical performance from DiCaprio, the kind that are a rarity nowadays and its certainly an hypnotic one at times but due to the aforementioned lack of character it feels like the performance warranted a better film. Tom Hardy is perhaps the film’s highlight though- embracing the menacing role of Fitzgerald, the man who betrayed Glass he is at his testosterone fuelled best here and whilst his accent seems questionable in the opening stages your eyes soon learn to adjust. Credit must also be given here to Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson who both excel in smaller supporting roles.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of The Louisiana Purchase one of the movie’s strong points is just how unforgiving Inarittu and Lubezki make the environment feel. Gorgeous but deadly the films cinematography is worthy of all the plaudits it has been given thus far. A niggling issue with the film is that it feels like there is a better one in there somewhere- the opening hour is superb, including the aforementioned opening scene and the already infamous bear scene but the movie can’t sustain this pace and begins to feel tiresome towards the middle, picking up the excitement again in a thrilling final showdown.
The Revenant is a film that is incredibly easy to admire but not one that is as easy to like. The film is stunning from start to finish but it leaves no lasting effect. It’s a treat for the eyes undoubtedly but it leaves a lot to be desired in the thinking department.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐