Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Screenplay: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mark L. Smith.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Joshua Burge, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Duane Howard, Melaw Nakehk’o, Arthur Redcloud, Fabrice Adde, Christopher Rosamond, Lukas Haas.
“I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I’d done it already”
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s track record speaks for itself in terms of his sombre and unrelenting material. Working alongside screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, his loose trilogy of films Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel all dealt with tragedy and issues of loss and grief and his 2010 film Biutiful confirmed that grim material was his forte. However, his biggest success came last year with Birdman where he was awarded the Oscar for best director. Birdman wasn’t just successful in terms of awards, though, it proved that Iñárritu had the ability to craft something of a lighter nature. But now that he’s got that out the way, he’s back to delivering another punishing drama.
Inspired by the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who, while fur trading on an expedition through the American wilderness in the 1820’s, is mauled by a bear and left for dead by his own team. In order to survive, Glass must overcome insurmountable odds in order to take revenge on John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) – the man responsible for abandoning him and killing his son.As The Revenant opens I was reminded of a particular filmmaker from the offset. It has a quiet and calming influence in the opening scenes and employs a connection with nature that Terrence Malick is renowned for. This is short lived, however, as what follows it’s calm and meticulous opening is a harrowing battle sequence that’s reminiscent of another director; Steven Spielberg and his chaotic, D-Day landings in Saving Private Ryan. Not since that film has battle been so expertly and brutally depicted onscreen. It’s at this point, early on in the film, that you realise this is going to be a completely immersive experience. Some films often claim the platitude of “an assault to the senses” but Iñárritu’s work here is one of the few that can authentically be claimed as such. We follow our protaganist, Hugh Glass, through a series of life-threatening challenges; his ravenous hunger; the cold chilling him to the bone, or the savage altercations with man (and beast), all the while, experiencing his overriding will to survive. Of course, a lot of this realism comes from how convincing DiCaprio is. Rarely has he been as committed to a role as he is here. It’s an astonishingly physical performance as he doesn’t say a word for long periods of time yet still manages to command your attention throughout some visceral and seriously gruelling ordeals – and his commitment looks highly likely to end his Oscar drought this year.As good as he is, though, Hardy is no less his equal. He brings that dead-eyed stare and ferocity that only Hardy knows how. His John Fitzgerald is a frightening and detestable human being but, under the surface, Hardy hints at something more and manages to turn a fairly straight forward villain into an intriguing, three-dimensional character. He, like DiCaprio, has rightly been recognised with an Oscar nomination and it’s a much deserved recognition of one of the most consistently excellent actors from recent years.What impresses most, however, is not the command of Iñárritu, the two fabulous leads or even the fine supporting work by Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter but Emmanuel Lubezki’s sublime camerawork. That’s the biggest draw here. His use of steadicam and long tracking shots amidst the battle scenes are absolutely captivating and his capturing of the sumptuous landscapes are truly breathtaking. The things this man do with a camera are simply unbelievable and with every frame, he crafts an absolute work of art. As if that’s not enough, he does it all with the use of natural light. This type of imagery doesn’t come easy, though. The technical difficulties involved led to a spiralling budget and the film’s shoot going over schedule but when the results look this good, it’s worth it. Since we’re talking awards, Lubezki throughly deserves to make it three Oscars in row after his previously outstanding work on Gravity and Birdman.Many will find it hard argue with the work by everyone involved here but that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have it’s flaws; the passage of time isn’t entirely clear, leaving it to look that Glass healed from his wounds overnight but the biggest issue for some could be how threadbare the story is. There’s really not a lot in regards to plot but I suppose that’s not entirely important when the whole aim of the film is create a sensory experience. When all is said and done, this isn’t a film that’s reliant on it’s narrative. If taken at face value, it’s linear structure could be deemed meaningless. However, if you approach it in a more metaphorical sense then the film works on a whole other level.
It’s about nature in all it’s beauty and unforgiving savagery. It’s about man’s place within this environment. It’s about greed, the origins of capitalism and how trading became devastating to the land and it’s indigenous people. Ultimately, there’s an environmental message that overshadows it’s central revenge theme. It’s as much about nature’s revenge as it is about Glass’. You could even argue that Glass is the embodiment of nature itself. These are interpretations that are better left to the individual viewer but when ruminated on, there is much to discuss.How many adjectives can you use to describe Iñárritu’s craftsmanship? Most of them have been used far more effectively than I ever could. How about voracious, rapacious and ostentatious? This is all of these things and revenge has never been more brutally depicted as it is in this epic survival tale.Mark Walker
Trivia: Tom Hardy was concerned about the safety of some of the stunts he had to do, which caused friction between him and director Alejandro González Iñárritu before Iñarritu allowed Hardy to choke him in return. Later, the image of Hardy strangling Iñarritu was immortalized in a T-shirt gifted by Hardy to all members of the crew, at the end of the shoot.