Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson.
Written by: Paul L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu and (based on part of the book) Michael Punke
Running Time: 156 mins
Release date: 15th January 2016
There is an old saying about suffering for your art. If that’s the case, then the cast and crew of Birdman director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s latest, The Revenant, all deserve plaques for going above and beyond in order to make a piece of entertainment. If you can call this entertainment because for 2 and a half hours, we are forced to watch as a man goes through hell and back, in the most gruelling and disturbing way.
1820’s and fur hunters are attacked by local natives in the deep west, leaving most of the men dead and the rest desperate to get back to civilization. Among them is Hugh Glass, an expert tracker and father to Hawk, part native American, who is also part of the team. While scouting for a route away from the following clan, Glass is mauled by a bear. Slowing the party down, he is left in the hands of his son, young innocent, Bridger, and gruff trader, Fitzgerald. Deciding that Glass is already dead, Fitzgerald plans to leave him buried in order to collect his money for staying behind. After an act of violence, Fitzgerald and Bridger flee, not knowing that Glass is a resilient man who refuses to die that easy.
Last year, Birdman walked off with the Best Picture Oscar and the buzz this year is that this will do the same. This is a completely immersive and visceral experience, in which you are not only witness to the horrors and gruesome experiences of Glass as he is determined to wreak revenge, you feel like you are actually there, thanks to Iñárritu’s clever direction and the superb cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki. The camera flies around the various set pieces like you are part of the action, from the impressive opening where the natives attack the traders, jumping from one horse to another, following men as they are submerged in the icy waters, experiencing every grisly moment.
Iñárritu refuses to let go after that, putting his main protagonist through all kinds of tortuous events, none more so shocking and disturbing than the bear mauling, an extended scene brilliantly executed by some very clever CGI animation, making us feel every bite, every rip of the skin from the creature’s mighty talons. This is a relentlessly gory sequence that some people might find hard to watch.
The film then becomes like a more violent version of The Incredible Journey, as Glass, brimming with vengeance, will risk his life battling the elements, fighting starvation and even fending off the same natives, who have their own reasons for revenge, at he desperately tries to head back to the main camp. You are put through the wringer, living every awful moment of Glass’s nightmare trip.
The performances from the virtually all-male cast are exceptional. Domhnall Gleeson is almost unrecognisable as the Captain of the traders, while Will Poulter proves again his talents as Bridger. Tom Hardy, who has had a reasonably good year with Mad Max, shows why he is one of the screen’s most charismatic performers, delivering another top-notch character with Fitzgerald.
If anyone deserves an Oscar, then it has to be Leonardo DiCaprio. As Glass, it’s an incredibly physically performance, spend most of the time in silence as the vengefulness boils up inside him. Having recently won the Golden Globe for best actor, this is looking increasingly like DiCaprio’s year and after this amazing performance, I’m guessing he will be hard to beat.
The Revenant is a film not for the faint-hearted. At 156 minutes long, it does feel like it could have been trimmed back and even as it tries to deconstruct the lengths a human will push himself under extreme conditions, I wasn’t as emotionally engaged with the characters as I was with the other Oscar nominated Best Picture, Room. Yet there is so much to praise this film for and maybe DiCaprio will be honoured for the most physically, most tortured performance of his career. Bison’s liver, anyone?