Last year, Alejandro González Iñárritu's technical achievement, Birdman, dominated the Oscar's, taking home best picture, achievement in directing, best original screenplay and achievement in cinematography. With the Oscar's approaching, and with very few real competitors, it seemed like maybe The Revenant will have a chance of taking home some awards. The trailer had sold me and early buzz was strong, but now that I've seen the movie, I'm really, really, really hoping this doesn't take home as many Oscar's as Birdman did. I'm not even that big a fan of Birdman, but it's a far superior movie.
The Revenant follows the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an explorer who escaped an Indian attack with a few of his fellow explorers, including John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). When navigating their way back to their home town, Hugh is attacked by a bear. He's crippled and on the verge of death. Contrary to the captain's orders, Fitzgerald leaves him for dead, also murdering his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). Cold and crippled in the middle of nowhere, Hugh begins his journey home, hoping for saviour, but preparing for the worse. It's a tough and relentless journey through the winter, death never trailing too far behind.
The Revenant claims to be based on a true story and while these people did exist and Hugh Glass was attacked by a bear, the story started out incredibly vague, just becoming more and more ficticious along the way, and I'm okay with that. If films were based entirely on truth, they would never be quite as dramatic. They would never be quite as entertaining. I've said it plenty of times before, but if a film needs to deviate from the source material to make a better movie, I'm all for it. The Revenant deviates, but only because very little is known as fact. Perhaps they could've deviated a little bit more and made this a more interesting movie.
The first thirty minutes of this film is seriously brutal, almost to an excessive degree. The film opens with an Indian attack. It's a slow, drawn out and gruesome affair that lasts way longer than it needed to. We're treated to the sight of many unnamed men getting slaughtered in vicious ways, ranging from decapitation to being set on fire. I'm not against violence in movies, but when it's shown for the sake of showing it, then I'll have a problem with it. This opening sequence is more violent than it needed to be, and eventually it just gets tiresome and dull. It has no focus, chaos ensuring all over the place. I was never sure what was going on. If the scene had been shortened and focussed in on our protagonists, it could make for an intense and exciting opening. But it doesn't do that.
This isn't the only moment of excessive violence, either. The second non-spoilery moment is the catalyst for this film's plot. The bear attack. It was shown briefly in the trailers, but nothing can prepare you for the insanity and difficulty of watching that scene. It just goes and goes and goes, mostly done in one or two shots. It's violent, and thanks to the sound and make up departments, it's very hard to watch. The scene itself is necessary, and without it the film would make no sense, but I must say, this would have been a much more enjoyable viewing if it had been just a tad shorter. There are moments that feel as if the film goes too far, and I'm not the type of person who usually turns away from violence. I didn't, but I was about to.
From here on out, The Revenant is a tale of survival, and while it can drag from time to time, it's certainly one of the best made films of 2015. Birdman, like I've said on many occasions, isn't one of my favourite films of 2014. It is, however, one of the most impressive films on a technical scale. The same can be said about The Revenant. It's a beautiful looking movie, Emmanuel Lubezki proving once again that he is a master at cinematography. He's able to capture the beauty and rawness of life, using all natural lighting and giving the camera a mind of its own. We need to get Emmanuel Lubezki to do the camerawork on every movie.
This is the first we've seen of Leonardo DiCaprio since his career best performance in The Wolf Of Wall Street. With The Revenant, DiCaprio is back with a vengeance, finally out to get his gold statue. Will he get it? I hope so. While his performance here is almost entirely without dialogue, he's still able to display a wide range of emotion and tell a personal journey without using too many words. This doesn't allow for a lot of opportunities for us to connect with his character, but I enjoyed his performance nonetheless.
The other standout of the film is Tom Hardy, who's a standout in just about every film he's in. Sporting a new and impressive accent, Hardy is here to attempt to out-act DiCaprio, and I'm not going to lie, he nearly gets there. He's given arguably the same amount of screen time as DiCaprio during the film's first half and it's here that his performance really shines. He's a despicable character and while there's less of him in the second half, his performance is still quite magical, so to speak. He shows a side we haven't from him seen before.
A reasonable portion of this film relies on the tension between these two characters, and while both actors give tremendous performances and they're going to get some serious award recognition, their rivalry isn't always felt. The filmmakers attempt to give reasoning behind it, but since they're separated for a majority of the movie, there's not a lot to go off. There's an attempt to make their rivalry build to something and the pay off is worthwhile, but it's never suspenseful. On top of that, the final outcome is painfully predictable.
To sum up, The Revenant is a grand achievement when it comes to the film's technical side. The performances, cinematography and directing are just fantastic. The film itself is a different story. It's an over violent drag with only a few moments of brilliance.
2 1/2 Stars