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2015, Adventure/Western, 2h 36m
What to know
As starkly beautiful as it is harshly uncompromising, The Revenant uses Leonardo DiCaprio's committed performance as fuel for an absorbing drama that offers punishing challenges -- and rich rewards. Read critic reviews
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While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains life-threatening injuries from a brutal bear attack. When a member (Tom Hardy) of his hunting team kills his young son (Forrest Goodluck) and leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back to civilization. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, the legendary fur trapper treks through the snowy terrain to track down the man who betrayed him.
Rating: R (Brief Nudity|A Sexual Assault|Violence|Gory Images|Language|Strong Frontier Combat)
Genre: Adventure, Western
Original Language: English
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Producer: Arnon Milchan , Steve Golin , Alejandro González Iñárritu , Mary Parent , Keith Redmon , James W. Skotchdopole
Writer: Mark L. Smith , Alejandro González Iñárritu
Release Date (Theaters): Jan 8, 2016 wide
Release Date (Streaming): Mar 22, 2016
Box Office (Gross USA): $183.6M
Runtime: 2h 36m
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Production Co: Appian Way, New Regency Pictures, M Prods, Anonymous Content
Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, SDDS, Datasat
Aspect Ratio: Scope (2.35:1)
Cast & Crew
Captain Andrew Henry
Dave Stomach Wound
Wife of Hugh Glass
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Mark L. Smith
James W. Skotchdopole
Jennifer Davisson Killoran
News & Interviews for The Revenant
Tom Hardy’s 10 Best Movies
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Critic Reviews for The Revenant
Audience reviews for the revenant.
Exceptionally beautiful direction and screenplay by Iñárritu. Superb cinematography. Poignant soundtrack. Brilliant performances (although Hardy's mumbling was difficult to discern oftimes). Fantastic costumes and sound. There's nothing not to love about this graceful, poetic and haunting film.
After being attacked by a bear, Hugh Glass must survive the perils of the wilderness and avenge the murder of his son. Brutal and raw, Leonardo DiCaprio's incredible performance deserves all its accolades, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is at top form, crafting an adventure that I wish more blockbusters would imitate. There's real tension in the conflicts, and the action scenes aren't jump-cutted to incomprehensible death. The second act is a little long, and I could've done without so many shots that jerk off to trees and sky. Overall, one of the best films of the year, this is a great adventure story.
As much as I really didn't care for his Oscar winning picture 'Birdman " Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innarito put together and presented A motion picture movie with a compelling combination of beautiful, brutality and compelling acting performances that I can remember in a film picture in some time. Inarritu brought long natural light, brilliant camera-tracking shots, placement that makes specific scenes take on an impressive sense of real. I was afraid that the appealing trailers may give away too much ongoing with this film, but once you see it all the way thru, there was much more meat on the bone to chew - Revenant is a western set film that is so intense on Survival and Revenge. I was getting myself prepared for a slow start and even slower character-developing as the movie progresses , but I got anything but that. It starts out brutally violent and blood gory,..in fact it literally " rains " with brutal graphic violence (remember how Saving Private Ryan war scene started out ?) there's an absolute impressive amount of attacks and escapes, and the motion and camera shots are always moving and enticing. I found myself constantly engaged anywhere from Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) to his son, to his comrades, to the surrounding area Much is going to talked about the Grizzly scene, which was as brutally savage and tantalizing as you can expect. And it's not a quick, clean brush with death either. It stretches and extends to you find yourself thinking ...."wow, when is this going to be over, ? " .....no way he is making it out of this "" .... the frame set of the camera doing this Bear scene is brilliant, just when you think, this has to be it, this has to be the end and this has to be a final escape, the brutal scene goes on, .and squeamish you are shown the bloody results of such an attack. DiCaprio's performance was outstanding from humble father and husband, to fallen victim who has to visually and physically experience a heart broken tragedy , to how he miraculousy finds a way to emerge from helplessness to a fierce never say die sole survivor who is relentless in his quest to not only survive but hunt for vengenance. I can't think of a more terrific acting performance by DiCaprio, that easily outshines his Gangs of New York, The Departure and Django Unchained. Revenant has a pace that can be compared to Castaway in that it has a mesmerizing slowness but it's unique in how it still engages and appeals to you. You can't pull away from it because of the creativity in either the characters, or how the way of survival, escapes or prey-hunting is being presented to you. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) keeps another half of it going because he is brilliantly ruthless - almost to a babbling psycho nut presence. Fitzgerald can sabotage or turn on a friend or foe at any given moment and turn. And he is corky in how he does it. And you can eventually get to a hold of why Fitz thinks and feels the way he does and takes the course of action he does to alleviate the crucial revenge hunt. And just when you thought that would be the end of Glass's tragedies and heartbreaks he is about discover another in an unsuspecting friend. And there is eventually the finale which not only includes again some graphic violence but some turning strategic combat methods as well. Interesting the plot and story write of the Revenant is pretty simple, however the combination of acting performances , action sequences and camera work and cinematography will be on a cult classic for many decades to come. From the snowy woods and mountains, to the murky trees of the forest, from the river waters and falls , to the group camp scenes, and there is also a well done music score as well. i spoke much about the bear scene, but expect to be almost in awe with the horse scene as well. Frankly speaking I have no doubt in my mind that the Revenant will be going away with the Oscar come February and we could see awards given away for best actor, best director , best cinematography, and most definitely ... Best Picture. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to give the Revenant a 9.0
See more reviews like this at chrisbreviews.blogspot.com First things first, steer clear of this one if you don't like either of the following; This movie is LONG. 3 hours long (including ads and credits). AND It is VERY gory. There's excessive violence, a lot of blood, and quite confronting conflict. Right, if you're still here, let's get on with the actual movie quality. The plot moves along very slowly, with bursts of tense or action sequences in between watching DiCaprio crawling through snow. It depends on your perspective, but these scenes were probably inserted by Director Iñárritu to demonstrate Hugh's recovery and to emphasise the underlying theme of survival and perseverance. Don't see it if you've got a short attention span. But, the plot, aside from its excessive length, is truly brilliant. It centres around revenge and there is constantly something posing a threat to the main character, even in those dull moments the freezing temperature causes Glass to do some quick thinking. And the relentless barrage of threats over 3 hours truly emphasises his achievement of survival, makes audiences admire his sheer determination, and makes you root for this character the whole way. Even in its conclusion, you remember everything he's endured throughout the movie and be in awe of the character. It's truly an amazing story, and what makes it even more amazing is that it's based on true events. The CGI, Special effects, and make up are all exemplary. And there's a lot of opportunities for them to shine. The most impressive example of this is the bear that mauls Glass. But, even though its minor to many, one of the biggest things that annoy me is that everyone except the good guys seem to be horrible at aiming! There's a scene with Glass on a horse riding parallel to an army of Indians and not one of them hit him! So plot convenience was my biggest irritation. The cast is nearly entirely male; consisting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Lukas Haas, and Kristoffer Joner. Obviously we all know that DiCaprio is nominated for an Oscar for his performance, and he's a big chance at finally winning. If he doesn't earn it on this performance, he never will. Because he was brilliant, despite having no speech nearly the entire time. And he's stolen the spotlight, but I don't think Tom Hardy was given enough credit as he deserved. I learned over the 3 hours to despise him, and he was an integral element in the overall quality of this movie and DiCaprio's performance. Young Will Poulter wasn't too bad either as the naïve and scared young hunter. Hugh Glass was of course an incredibly interesting and well-developed character. We see flashbacks of his deceased wife and parents telling him to survive and push the limits no matter what. This same message is delivered to Glass's son, and we are reminded of it throughout the movie, but we don't need to be to see that's its obviously been deep-seeded in Glass. That and his desire for revenge allows him to persist and endure even in the closest of death experiences and when all seems lost. Even I felt hopeless for him yet he somehow gets back up again. Hardy's character Fitz doesn't seem to have enough motivation aside from some strange sense of racism to kill Glass's son and have an uncontrollable hate for Glass. That was a slight downfall. With plenty of time to kill, they included plenty of genres. They include action, adventure, biographical, drama, history, thriller, war, and western. The setting was in the 1820's American winter. We can't forget the fantastic themes that the movie was centralised around. These are themes of survival, perseverance, revenge, family, love, and murder. To conclude, I thought this was a brilliant film, and it's not just me that thinks so, with the film scoring a whopping 12 nominations including best picture, best actor in a leading role, best actor in a supporting role, cinematography (which I loved due to the panoramic tracking shots for extended periods during battle sequences), and directing. Unfortunately, it was just too long and had a few too many plot conveniences and a couple underdeveloped characters.
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- The Revenant features some of Leonardo DiCaprio’s best work, not much else
This movie sometimes feels like a live-action remake of The Good Dinosaur.
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The Revenant is director Alejandro G. Iñárritu 's best movie in ages — probably since his 2000 release Amores Perros . Considering his resumé boasts a Best Picture winner in 2014's Birdman , as well as another Oscar darling in 2006's Babel , that likely sounds like the highest possible praise.
It's not. Though I generally liked The Revenant , it definitely follows the same path as most of Iñárritu's other films. They're bold, stylistic experiments, exciting to watch and look at. But the second they're over, they evaporate, undone by thin themes and empty characterization.
In this case, that might be okay. The story of The Revenant doesn't really need deeper themes; man (real-life figure Hugh Glass , played here by Leonardo DiCaprio ) is mauled by bear, then drags himself back to what passes for civilization on the frontier to exact revenge. It could be a mean and nasty pulp tale of blood, horror, and vengeance.
But Iñárritu and company present this story as if it's saying something meaningful about, well, something — probably the human need to survive — and that's what ultimately does it in. The promising pulp tale becomes trapped inside of an overwrought, overstuffed prestige picture that ultimately doesn't have anything deeper to say than, "Life is pretty tough, and then you die."
Let's survey the good, bad, and weird of this really, really weird film.
Good: The Revenant might be the most beautiful film of the year
There's one main reason to see The Revenant , and it's a big one: This is one gorgeous movie. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who has won two consecutive Oscars for cinematography, for his work on Gravity and Birdman ) used natural light as often as possible while tracking their hero's journey through the American West in the 1800s, far away from any sort of help or refuge.
As such, they manage to depict certain qualities of light that I don't think I've ever seen presented quite so beautifully onscreen. In one sequence, Glass comes upon a man standing by a fire in twilight, the dark blue sky heralding a blizzard whose first few flakes are beginning to fall. Somehow, Lubezki captures both the foreboding of the darkening sky and the warmth of the firelight — as well as its alienness when surrounded by so much nothing.
This continues throughout the film, which was shot on location in Alberta and Argentina. Every account of the movie's production makes it sound like the kind of shoot where everything went horribly wrong, but the results look spectacular. The Revenant is a movie worth getting lost in.
Bad: Any character not named Hugh Glass
The film keeps checking in on the adventures of John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy with Kathy Bates's accent from the fourth season of American Horror Story , and his teenage companion, Jim Bridger ( Will Poulter ), who attempt to get back to a far-off military fort after leaving Glass for dead. All three started out with a party of fur traders, but the bear's attack left the other two to stay behind with Glass until his presumed death — until Fitzgerald does something truly unforgivable (about which more in a moment), giving Glass reason to track him down.
The film also checks in with a group of Native Americans who are searching for a missing girl, as well as the rest of the fur-trading party Glass was scouting for before meeting the bear.
This gives the whole movie a weirdly episodic structure, where none of these side storylines contribute much to what's happening with Glass. There's a sequence where it seems like Glass's party might be hopelessly lost without his guidance — but then the next time we see them, they're back at the fort. Similarly, the Native American group doesn't ever gain real relevance to the story, outside of a brief intersection with Glass's own tale.
Watching the film, I was reminded of the 2010 remake of True Grit , which harnessed some of the weird wildness of the frontier, the sense that anyone you meet coming around the bend could be a new friend or your murderer.
The Revenant tries to funnel some of that uncertainty into a sweeping epic, but none of the other characters find a niche within the story to fill, beyond serving as hardships for Glass to overcome.
Good: Leonardo DiCaprio!
There's been plenty of mockery of DiCaprio's inability to win an Oscar for his acting, despite several prior nominations. (And he totally should have won for The Wolf of Wall Street , while we're on the subject.)
Plus, every story about his performance in The Revenant has to mention the many miseries he suffered while shooting the film in the name of authenticity. He crawled inside an apparently real horse carcass, for God's sake! Give him an award!
But you know what? DiCaprio is really, really good here. It's not his finest performance ever — he's most skillful when he's playing a character who can charm you, then stab you in the back, and Hugh Glass isn't that — but it's an intensely physical, surprisingly nuanced turn. He's the only person on screen for most of The Revenant 's running time, and he's never anything less than committed. He really does seem to be channeling everything he has into the role.
Bad: What the hell is this movie about anyway?
Everything about The Revenant screams self-importance. There's the whole "shooting in natural light" thing. There's the two-and-a-half hour running time. There's the entire promotional campaign centered on DiCaprio's bravery in taking the role, the bluster over the film's raw realism. And there's the general tone of naturalism, the insistence that we're looking at the world as it really is.
But The Revenant is ridiculous. It takes an already interesting true story — about, I'll remind you, a man who was mauled by a bear and dragged himself to survival — and heaps even more misery on top of it. Glass has a son who accompanies him on his voyage; would you believe that son is felled by the hand of Fitzgerald, setting up the revenge portion of our tale? Well, he is.
Iñárritu frequently holds on close-ups of DiCaprio's face, flecked with spittle, eyes wide and uncomprehending at the sheer brutality he's had to endure. He looks like hell, and when the soundtrack fills with whispered memories of his philosophy about survival at all costs, it's clear The Revenant is straining for some kind of transcendence. But it doesn't have the first clue what it's trying to say beyond, "Sometimes shitty things happen, but people get past them." That's a decent idea for a movie, but not one as insistent upon itself as this one.
Weird: This movie is basically a remake of The Good Dinosaur
If you read my review of November's Pixar release, The Good Dinosaur , you'll be surprised at how many of my complaints about that film also apply to The Revenant , from its general inability to track the geography of Glass's journey to the way the film's big death is derivative of so many other works to the sheer visual splendor of both films.
Granted, "a long journey through the American West" isn't the most original idea in the first place, and lots of movies with that general description are stone-cold classics. But both The Good Dinosaur and The Revenant feel trapped by their road-bound nature. Neither elevates the trek from "a series of events that happened" into a real story.
And that's okay. Not every movie must concern itself with the world's deeper mysteries. Sometimes you just want to see a bear shred Leonardo DiCaprio's back. But it's hard to shake the thought that The Revenant is very, very good at being one thing, yet wants desperately to be another and never quite gets there.
Also weird: How on Earth did that "bear rape" rumor start?
The Drudge Report's Matt Drudge suggested this film features a bear raping DiCaprio, but it doesn't contain a single shot that would seem to imply such a thing. Also, the bear is a female bear. This is one of the weirdest notions of the year.
The Revenant is playing in limited release. It will play everywhere starting Friday, January 8, 2016.
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Great film has the power to convey the unimaginable. We sit in the comfort of a darkened theater or our living room and watch protagonists suffer through physical and emotional pain that most of us can’t really comprehend. Too often, these endurance tests feel manipulative or, even worse, false. We’re smart enough to “see the strings” being pulled, and the actor and set never fades away into the character and condition. What’s remarkable about Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” is how effectively it transports us to another time and place, while always maintaining its worth as a piece of visual art. You don’t just watch “The Revenant,” you experience it. You walk out of it exhausted, impressed with the overall quality of the filmmaking and a little more grateful for the creature comforts of your life.
Iñárritu and co-writer Mark L. Smith set their tone early, staging a breathtaking assault on a group of fur trappers by Native Americans, portrayed not just as “enemies” but a violent force of nature. While a few dozen men are preparing to pack up and move on to their next stop in the great American wilderness, a scene out of “ Apocalypse Now ” unfolds. Arrows pierce air and flesh as the few surviving men flee to a nearby boat. It turns out that the tribe is seeking a kidnapped daughter of its leader, and will kill anyone who gets in their way. At the same time, we learn that one of the trappers, Hugh Glass ( Leonardo DiCaprio ) has a half-Native American son named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck).
Low on men and hunted, the expedition leader Andrew Henry ( Domhnall Gleeson ) orders that their crew return to its base, a fort in the middle of this snowy wilderness. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) disagrees, and the seeds of dissent are planted. He doesn’t trust Henry, and he doesn’t like Glass. In the midst of these discussions, Glass is away from the crew one day when he’s brutally attacked by a bear—the sequence is, without hyperbole, one of the most stunning things I’ve seen on film in a long time, heart-racing and terrifying. Glass barely survives the attack. It seems highly unlikely that he’ll make it back to the base. With increasingly dangerous conditions and a tribe of killers on their heels, they agree to split up. Most of the men will go back first while Fitzgerald, Hawk and a young man named Bridger ( Will Poulter ) will get a sizable fee to stay with Glass until he dies, giving him as much comfort as possible in his final days and the burial he deserves.
Of course, Fitzgerald quickly tires of having to watch a man he doesn’t care about die. He kills Hawk in front of an immobile Glass and then basically buries Hugh alive. As Bridger and Fitzgerald head back, Glass essentially rises from the dead (the word revenant means “one that returns after death or a long absence”) and begins his quest for vengeance. With broken bones, no food, and miles to go, he pulls himself through snow and across mountains, seeking the man who killed his son. He is practically a ghost, a man who has come as close to death as one possibly can but is unwilling to go to the other side until justice is done.
The bulk of “The Revenant” consists of this torturous journey, as Glass regains his strength and gets closer to home through sheer force of will. Iñárritu’s Oscar-winning cinematographer for “ Birdman ,” Emmanuel Lubezki (who also took a trophy for “ Gravity ” the year before and could easily make it three in a row for this work) shoots “The Revenant” in a way that conveys both the harrowing conditions and the artistry of his vision. The sky seems to go on forever; the horizon is neverending. He works in a color palette provided by nature, and yet enhanced. The snow seems whiter, the sky bluer. Many of his shots, especially in times of great danger like the opening attack and the bear scene, are unbroken — placing us in the middle of the action.
At other times, Lubezki’s choices recall his work on “The Tree of Life,” especially in scenes in the second half when Glass’s journey gets more mystical. And that’s where the film falters a bit. Iñárritu doesn’t quite have a handle on those second-half scenes and the 156-minute running time begins to feel self-indulgent as the film loses focus. When it centers on the conditions and the tale of a man unwilling to die, it’s mesmerizing. I just think there’s a tighter version, especially in the mid-section, that would be even more effective.
About that man: So much has been made of this film being DiCaprio’s “Overdue Oscar” shot that I feel like his actual work here will be undervalued. Make no mistake. Should he win, it will not be some “Lifetime Achievement” win as we’ve seen in the past for actors who we all thought should have won for another film ( Paul Newman , Al Pacino , etc.). He’s completely committed in every terrifying moment, pushing himself further than he ever has before as an actor. Even just the physical demands of this protagonist would have been enough to break a lot of lesser actors, but it’s the way in which DiCaprio captures his internal fortitude that’s captivating—his body may be broken, but we believe he is unwilling to give up.
The minimal supporting cast is good, and it’s nice to see Gleeson continue to have an incredible 2015 (also in “ Brooklyn ,” “ Ex Machina ” and “ Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens ”). Tom Hardy is less effective, often going a little too heavy on the tics (wide eyes, shot up-close), but I think that’s a fault of the direction and not one of our best actors. In the end, this is DiCaprio’s film through and through, and he nails every challenging beat, literally throwing himself into this character that demands more of him physically than any other before.
What would you do for vengeance? What conditions could you surmount to get it? Or would you just give up? Our favorite films often drop questions like these into our lives, allowing us to appreciate the world a little differently than before we saw them. “The Revenant” has this power. It lingers. It hangs in the back of your mind like the best classic parables of man vs. nature. It will stay there for quite some time.
Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.
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The Revenant (2015)
Rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass
Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald
Will Poulter as Jim Bridger
Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry
Paul Anderson as Anderson
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- Alejandro González Iñárritu
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'The Revenant' Review: Iñárritu’s Most Effective Film Yet
The camera isn’t just a character in 'The Revenant', but the lynchpin to Iñárritu’s thematic point. Even in the most barren and harsh landscape, you are never alone.
[Note: Tommy's review of The Revenant was originally posted in December; with the film set to expand nationwide tomorrow, January 8, we are reposting it ]
Boiling down to a simple ‘man vs. nature’ tale, what The Revenant shares with the best of survivalist films ( Deliverance , Alive, The Grey ) is less a focus on the physical but more the emotional and mental toll it takes to survive. Which is to say it’s not just about what manly things man must do to make it out in the cold terrain; but how he must think, what motivates him to continue, to even bother taking one step further. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu has always been a bit of a sentimental, if not downright schmaltzy filmmaker. Birdman , Babel , Biutiful at times tipped over into outright mawkishness, bludgeoning its writ into pap. The Revenant , though, through its stripped down narrative, marks Iñárritu’s most clear-eyed and effective film yet.
It’s still the same themes at play here – man, bogged down by worldly desire, seeks to transcend himself through spiritual enlightenment. Instead of Birdman’s has-been actor weighed by the need to reclaim fame, it’s a wounded 1820s frontiersman haunted by the need for revenge. Leonardo DiCaprio , all grunts and half-whispers, stars as said frontiersman, buried alive and left for dead out in the winter wilderness by his fellow companions ( Tom Hardy & Will Poulter ). After coming to, he must brave the vicious climate, his injuries & a tracking Indian party all in the pursuit of the men who betrayed him. Yet The Revenant isn’t so much a revenge story as it is about letting go of past grievances. The question isn’t will DiCaprio get back at Hardy; but can he ever move past it?
There are long swooping shots of the trees swaying in between gusts of wind, of glacial water flowing, of snow and rain dripping down from above. Many have already begun to invoke ‘Terrence Malick’, in particular The Tree of Life ; yet where Malick uses the natural world as proof of the divine, Iñárritu posits the opposite – that divinity exists despite the cold indifference of the natural world. There’s no warm romanticism in The Revenant’s depiction of the outdoors. No lingering Malick-esque shots of a flower blooming or the golden hour sky or the glistening yellow wheat fields, the simple beauty of nature used as proof of Godliness. In The Revenant , every shot of the trees and snow and rain and water and mud is indicative of just how unnatural, how unforgiving, how cruel and unrelenting the outside can be. The Tree of Life’s low-to-high angle shot, trees pointing upwards to the heavenly crystal clear sky, is repurposed in The Revenant – instead of the bright skies of Malick-yore, The Revenant’s ‘heavenly skies’ are obscured by rain and snow. The trees, rustling above, aren’t pointing to the heavens but blocking it; nature is an obtrusion to Godliness.
The crux of The Revenant centers around what motivates man in such a harsh and unforgiving climate, a barren landscape where religion and faith seemingly has no place. DiCaprio’s frontiersman is torn between his base need for revenge and the noble pursuit to live on in his family’s name (handled somewhat ham-fistedly by recurring visions of his dead wife). That DiCaprio’s moment of catharsis comes inside the ruined grounds of a church, decrepit and ravaged by the savage land, only further externalizes this inner turmoil. And that the church bell still rings despite the building’s rugged exterior is proof enough to where Iñárritu’s true allegiance lies.
Midway through, Tom Hardy (chewing up scenery just a tad too much) gives a long speech about how his father, stranded in the wilderness himself, found ‘God’ in the eyes of a squirrel and how his father didn’t hesitate for a second to eat that squirrel, to eat God himself. The implication is clear – Hardy arguing there is no God, no morality, no right or wrong out in the wild, only predator and its prey, his earthly worldview marking him (in the film’s eyes) as villainous.
If this thematic through-line threatens to tip over into self-indulgence, Iñárritu compensates with some of the most thrilling set pieces of the year. An opening Indian raid, a now somewhat infamous bear mauling, a one-shot knife fight – all prove Iñárritu may be at his best (ironically enough) when he isn’t aspiring to lofty spiritual ‘subtext’ but instead getting his hands dirty in some good ol’ fashioned action beats. The bear attack sequence, in particular, is so visceral, so perfectly staged and realized that the rest of the film almost can’t quite live up to the moment.
Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography is key, perfecting the roving camera-work he & Iñárritu used on Birdman . The camera will loop around, pushing in so close on characters that their breath fogs up the lens, that their blood splatters across – and yet, The Revenant will not cut away, continuing to play these now blood stained and fogged-up scenes within the shot. The result isn’t so much immersive as it does draw attention to the apparatus. DiCaprio’s abandoned frontiersman is never alone – because the camera is right there with him, pushing into his bearded mug, encircling him, inspecting his wounds, the camera so close you can’t help but wonder why Leo doesn’t just swat it away like a pesky fly.
The camera isn’t just a ‘character’ in The Revenant , but the lynchpin to Iñárritu’s thematic point. Even in the most barren and harsh landscape, you are never alone. The camera - omnipotent, always there even though you can’t see it – is divine, proof that there is more than just this base world. Characters mistakenly will stare up at the gloomy sky, searching for something, anything more when true enlightenment lies right in front of them, in the lens of the camera itself.
The Revenant (I) (2015)
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The Revenant review – gut-churningly brutal, beautiful storytelling
Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new movie pitches Leonardo DiCaprio against nature, bears and Tom Hardy in a tale of revenge, retribution and primal violence
I t’s man versus bear. And bear wins. Or does it? Early reports of Alejandro González Iñárritu ’s intestine-straighteningly brutal and beautiful new western thriller The Revenant have understandably focused on one quite extraordinary scene. Nineteenth-century fur trapper and frontiersman Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio , encounters some bear cubs in an eerily quiet forest and then hears the snuffly-wet sound of their parent behind him, a grownup grizzly who has gained a broadly correct impression of Glass’s overall intentions. The ensuing scene is one of horrifyingly primal violence, a brilliantly conceived CGI-reality cluster, during which I clenched into a whimperingly foetal ball so tight that afterwards I practically had to be rolled out of the cinema auditorium.
The immersion and immediacy of that confrontation reminded me of the moment in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when moviegoers go to the sensory-enhanced “feelies” and watch a sex scene on a bearskin rug. They feel every bear hair. So could I, and I also felt every droplet of bear spittle, every serration of tooth, and I understood what it feels like when parts of your ribcage are exposed to fresh air and light rain.
Some have described it as a rape scene . It isn’t. But it’s about power, fear and rage, and this moment, quite as much as the human duplicity that follows, is the driving force for this film’s theme, commoner in the movies than real life: revenge, revenge against men and maybe a kind of revenge against nature. Screenwriter Mark L Smith has worked partly from the 2002 novel by Michael Punke , and partly from the real-life story that itself inspired the book: the adventures of Hugh Glass, a Wyoming mountain man who survived a bear-mauling and went on an incredible odyssey to track down the two men who abandoned him to die. This story fictionalises and intensifies his personal circumstances and payback motivation.
Glass has joined other civilian privateers engaged in a US military expedition led by Andrew Henry ( Domhnall Gleeson ) along the Missouri river to establish a lucrative fur-trapping base. Glass and the others are set upon by tribesmen-warriors in an electrifying and terrifying sequence, in which warning cries are silenced by the sibilant arrival of an arrow in the throat. Glass, an experienced tracker, guides the terrified survivors’ retreat across country, where he is mauled by the bear, and two men are detailed and promised extra pay to look after him: young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy with pop-eyed, truculent malevolence. Once left alone with their charge, they leave Glass to die in agony and figure on returning to base to pick up their extra pay with a fine tale about giving him a Christian burial. But they reckon without Glass’s fanatical will to survive.
Generally, immersive movies enclose, they put you inside, they dunk you down into what it is supposed to feel like. Iñárritu and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki do the opposite: they expose you to the elements. You are out in a piercingly painful cold, under an endless, pitiless sky. This is not an immersion that feels like a sensual surrender; it’s closer to having your skin peeled. The images that the movie conjures are ones of staggering, crystalline beauty: gasp-inducing landscapes and beautifully wrought closeups, such as the leaves in bulbous freezing mounds, and a tiny crescent moon, all unsentimentally rendered. But there is also something hallucinatory and unwholesome about these images, as if hunger and pain has brought Glass to the secularised state of a medieval saint tormented with visions. Poignantly, he mimes shooting distant moose with a tree branch instead of a rifle, and when he suddenly comes across a vast plain full of bison, it’s unclear for a second if he is imagining things. A ruined church looks like a miraculous example of cave painting.
The Revenant recalls Ford’s The Searchers and modifies its themes of tribal and sexual transgression and its cruel invocation of scalping; the warriors who attack at first are enraged at the kidnap of a Native American woman, Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o). At other times, Iñárritu appears to be inspired by Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God , with the visions of imperial greed and the vast river in full flood – or maybe his documentary Grizzly Man , in which the grim-faced Herzog famously listened on his headphones to the sound of someone being mauled to death. There is arguably something of Altman in the wintry frontier terrain and certainly a Malickian weightlessness in some of Glass’s dreams of his wife. But what is so distinctive about this Iñárritu picture is its unitary control and its fluency: no matter how extended, the film’s tense story is under the director’s complete control and he unspools great meandering, bravura travelling shots to tell it: not dissimilar, in some ways, to his previous picture, Birdman . The movie is as thrilling and painful as a sheet of ice held to the skin.
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