revenant: n. One who has returned, as if from the dead
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu follows up his Oscar-winning chamber piece, ‘Birdman,’ with something completely different in scope and content, the riveting survival revenge-western, ‘The Revenant.’ This extreme man vs. man vs. nature film tells the extremely harrowing tale of real-life frontiersman, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his struggle to survive after crippling attacks by the native Arikara tribe, a mother bear protecting her cubs, his fellow trappers, and of course Mother Nature herself in what appears to be the Northwest Territories in the 1800s.
The film centers around DiCaprio’s almost wordless performance as a man determined to live in just about the harshest environment and situations ever captured on film. The film’s difficult production and star’s uncompromising commitment to his director’s vision has already started to become the stuff of legend. The agony of Glass’s insane predicament is written across the face and body of DiCaprio, in a performance rightfully lauded as one of this talented actor’s best. He is utterly convincing at every moment in this gripping Job-like tale, with many scenes sure to etch themselves in the collective memory of an audience challenged to witness the horrors besieging those on screen.
DiCaprio’s despondent tracker is bracketed by spot-on character actors as trappers and Native Americans as well as actors representing different aspects of the North American frontier life. Domhnall Gleeson (featured in some of the best movies of the year – ‘Ex Machina’ and ‘Star Wars’) plays the leader of a large group of men scraping a hard living in the wild. While it appears he comes from resented privilege, he is also effective at maintaining some level of order in this tempestuous, unrelenting world. On the other end of the spectrum is Tom Hardy (‘Mad Max’) as John Fitzgerald, a journeyman eking out an existence on the edges of civilization. Rather than make him a one-note, racist villain-type, Hardy plays him in a three-dimensional way that while not earning sympathy, at least earns some audience understanding of his reasoning.
Inarritu frames the bleak story with an equally bleak, yet compelling respect for the power of the natural world and the perils faced by man in navigating its’ cruel beauty. He opts for a deliberate, languid, wide-angle style that moves to undercutting close-ups and shaky tracking shots during moments of terror. The opening hunting / tribal attack on the trappers’ camp sets the tone, moving freely and seamlessly between both types of camera movements, sometimes going from the choppy handheld form to pulling back into steady-cam in one incredible motion. It is this mixture of old-school literal storytelling and newly innovative artistic styling that really set this film apart from other survival or frontier stories, creating a vision, that along with the very strong performances, leave an indelible scar . . .
Directed By: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Written By: Mark L. Smith & Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Running Time: 156 min.
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- A