Visionary director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s adaption of The Revenant is that rare bit of cinema that is both visually arresting, conjuring poetry through its ever-darkening demeanor and ominously claustrophobic imagery, and uncompromisingly brutal. This can be summed up as far more of a visceral, domineering experience than a traditional narrative. Inarritu’s latest knows exactly that this is what it yearns to be. It establishes this instantly. Afterward, it continues to communicate this with an intermingling of metaphoric conceptions both magnificent and grim. This tone is set swiftly with a masterfully orchestrated, and undoubtedly attention-getting, extended opening combat sequence. It is one crammed with arrows, bloodshed, scalping, death and dismemberment. This jaw-dropping segment calls to mind the unflinching power of the similarly lengthy sequence focusing in on the attack on Omaha Beach. Such composed the first twenty-seven minutes of Steven Spielberg’s 1998 World War II masterpiece, Saving Private Ryan. It is that harrowing, brash and intense. This is a demeanor that stays on-screen for nearly every second of its one hundred and fifty-six minute runtime. It is an attribute which is always present in the abundance of credibly delivered, beautifully staged and shot fight scenes. This is further displayed in the gorgeously forbidding and often foggy veneer of Emmanuel Lubezki’s rebelliously mood-setting, and Academy Award submitted, cinematography. But, the greatest triumph here is that so much of the aggression we are presented with doesn’t exist in its constant barrage of in your face violence. It is that large doses of its unabashed sentiment is expressed through simple facial gestures and mere body language.
This is especially true in Leonardo DiCaprio’s uncompromisingly brilliant, Best Lead Actor running turn as the frontiersman and fur trapper, Hugh Glass. His role, and much of the stalwart influence the exertion concocts, is dependent on DiCaprio’s ability to convey his rage in this manner. It is a testament to DiCaprio’s singular abilities, and also how much can be said with minimal dialogue, as the audience feels every physical and torturous endeavor he undergoes. This is a tremendous feat when keeping in mind Mark L. Smith and Inarritu’s deftly constructed screenplay. Such gives Glass ravenous new threats against both the natural and human elements with practically each new sequence. DiCaprio’s commanding depiction is the heart that beats understanding into the motives of Glass’ otherwise difficult to decipher personality. It also makes his spectators care. This wills each of its viewers to follow Glass through one hellish scenario after another with steadily elevating fascination. Though we are immediately thrust in the middle of the action as soon as the production commences, unaware for the bulk of the first twenty minutes who these people are and unsure of what exactly is going on, this confusion we feel makes it all the easier to get inside Glass’ psyche. We end up assessing each galvanizing circumstance he encounters much in the same manner Glass must be utilizing himself to endure. It is a dazzling way to force us to figure out what is transpiring in these early passages. This is established, in an act which only adds to our attention and concern, as we are fed only the vaguest pieces of plot through action and speech. It significantly heightens the white-knuckle and mystical turns culminating perspective into the feature. The cinematic viewpoint Inarritu deliberately crafts here is inspired and Kubrickian. This is backed by his emphasis on symmetry to create a sense of space, heighten emotional range and express character disposition. It gives the proceedings an underbelly of the surreal which works phenomenally in its favor. This also compliments DiCaprio’s interpretation incredibly well. It also makes this confrontational journey a test of endurance that is truly riveting and unforgettable.
The Revenant may be based in part, as the end titles inform us, on the 2002 novel of the same name by Michael Punke. Still, it owes just as much to Cormac McCarthy’s controversial 1985 western masterpiece, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West. Each tale wallows in wall to wall carnage. They also make no apologies for either their vulgarity in content or characterization. Much like McCarthy’s notorious tome, it is not particularly the admittedly thin account that is the focus here. Instead it is the apparent randomness of its often savage events. Also, aligning itself to the form of both compositions: the pace often feels aimless. This is an intentional choice on both Inarritu and McCarthy’s behalf. Such is distributed purposefully to add attain its intended laborious punch. This is often frustrating. Still, much of each respective work exists as such an unyielding enigma that neither are ever dull. Such traits endure even when the pain each auteur wants to inflict on its patrons is at its most unwavering.
In Inarritu’s feature this factor is initially disorienting. It leaves one feeling distant; far out of the emotional recesses of most of what transpires in the first hour. Yet, its distinct rhythm takes time to tune in to. Once this is achieved it all becomes suddenly captivating, increasingly moving and furiously personal almost at once. This can also be said of Blood Meridian. It is a part of the reason why each remains enigmatic, hypnotic and continually intriguing (even when you aren’t fully sure of exactly why). They are both great pieces. We find ourselves in admiration and more than grateful for the patience and skill reserved to simply sit through these tales. Yet, the results are so victorious in etching its horrific situations eternally in our brain and operative in leaving us visibly shaken that we have little to no interest in returning back to either any time soon.
Furthermore, both visions are teaming with leads that are anything but likable. Yet, they remain intriguing despite their loathsome traits. This is because of the smart, but risky, gamble to give us little to no exposition or backstory into any of the lives of those we meet along the way. We are left figuring them out as much as the saga itself. It adds an ever-present mystery to these individuals. It is one that might not be there if such details were more fully fleshed out. The aforementioned lack of clarity, aided through this particular lack of character development, is purposefully present in both undertakings. This is a bold move. One whose success contributes spectacularly to the memorable, haunting impression in each respective account. Each arrangement initially seems impenetrable. It is as if it is defying its patrons to warm up to it in any conventional fashion. Yet, as we peel back its many layers and find ourselves digging ever deeper into its contents we unveil almost unfathomable currents of profundity and strange, unexpected beauty within them. This only increases my appreciation for both pieces immensely.
Inarritu documents Glass’ struggles for survival in the harsh southern wilderness in the winter of 1823. After enduring a bear attack, a gritty and jarring early sequence which proves one of its most memorable moments, his hunting team gives up on their promise of nursing him back to health. In turn, he is, as the title noun suggests, left for dead. Glass’ only company becomes the lyrically erected recurring instances where he dreams of his wife (an enactment by Grace Dove that is impactful and towering) and son, Hawk (a credible portrayal by Forrest Goodluck). These are cut into the grim sight of his home burning. These plagued him before but, they seem to increase in meaning and rapidity as they push him to subsist through the life defying odds which await him. Ultimately, this becomes the fuel which helps propel him against a plethora of perilous conditions, which take up more than two hours of its screen time, through fortitude, luck and constant thoughts of a well-earned revenge. This is pinpointed against the individual he deems responsible for these incidents. It all leads to a brazen, breathtaking final half hour. One that is as emotionally satisfying as it is passionate and penetrating. It is also grand and elegiac. Most significantly, Inarritu seems to top himself as everything reaches its boiling point. This is the type of resplendent climax Hollywood can take a lesson from. Unlike many contemporary blockbuster resolutions: it is never overblown. Instead it naturally leads the plot threads to its logical conclusion. After all that came before it this cheer inducing, nail biter of a finish is woven with a potent component of contemplation. This is precisely the cathartic punctuation point the movie deserves.
Tom Hardy’s Best Supporting Actor proposed turn as Glass’ fellow hunting team member, John Fitzgerald, is solid. His character’s is vile throughout. He undoubtedly proves a worthy target of Glass’ increasing indignation. Hardy’s performance isn’t anywhere near the immense caliber of DiCaprio’s contribution here. Still, he is consistently watchable. Fitzgerald and Glass’ crew leader, Captain Andrew Henry, is excellently played with a quiet confidence by Domhnall Gleeson. Paul Anderson as Anderson, Lukas Haas as Jones, Will Poulter as Bridger, Kristopher Joner as Murphy and Melaw Nakehk’o as the much sought after and believed to be kidnapped Native American Pawnee tribe leader’s daughter, Powaqa, all ring with unbridled authenticity and power. They all help achieve its raw, striking command and also its endlessly unblemished tone.
Such an outcome is also thanks to terrific original music by Alva Nicolai and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Their sonic input is unnerving and sentimental. It captures and compliments the pulse, the attitude and the atmosphere of this big-screen epic impeccably. Stephen Mirrione’s Oscar designated editing fares just as well. The similarly chosen costume design by Jacqueline West is fantastic. It helps transport us to its era effortlessly. This also applies to Lon Bender’s spectacular sound design, Hamish Purdy‘s astonishing set decoration and Jack Fisk’s phenomenal, likewise selected production design. The effects, whose optical aspect has also been given a nod by The Academy Awards, are also largely impressive. This is even if many of the shots of the animals Glass encounters along the way often visibly resonate their computer generated imagery.
The Revenant received an amazing twelve Oscar nominations. This is the highest of 2016’s contenders. Given that this is a soaring triumph, and defiantly among the top tier of the year’s best features, this is certainly merited. This also goes for its Best Picture selection. It blows the lid off many of its competitors. For instance, this is far more absorbing than Spielberg’s overrated Cold War era thriller, Bridge of Spies. The writing is far better here than it is in than in Ridley Scott’s often unnecessarily comical adaption of Andy Weir’s bestseller, The Martian. Yet, it is a lot like Mad Max: Fury Road. This resides in the way it wholly commits itself to its extraordinary, one of a kind vision. Inarritu has a great chance of being chosen, as he was with last year’s surprisingly poignant Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), for both the Best Director award and taking home the win for creating the single best feature of 2015. This is belief lies in the fact that this is an innovative throwback to a time when cinema could pull you through the physical and mental gambit without ever leaving your seat. Because of this its onlookers would applaud the affair for putting them through an almost unimaginable turmoil through the sheer strength of on-screen marvels. It deserves all the acclamation it can muster for exactly that reason. We desperately need more films like this one.