The Revenant (2016)

7 Jan

Nature is cruel. At its most basic level, the humanity expressed in The Revenant seems to be designed to accomplish one thing and one thing only: survive at all costs. The film, directed by Oscar-winning Alejandro Inarritu, is a 150-minute long examination on brutish, dog-eat-dog survival with impeccable visceral and cinematic detail.

Set in early 1800’s, a group of trappers lead by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) are making their way through the wintery Montana landscape with a load of valuable pelts. Among the party are Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an experienced mountain man with tribal ties to local Native Americans, his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a short tempered man with a particular disdain for natives. It’s clear right off the bat that these are hardened men in desperate times. In what may be one of the greatest opening battle sequences of all time, the group is ambushed by an Arikara hunting tribe, leaving multiple deaths on both sides. Desperate for supplies, the group must now travel through the snowy wilderness towards a nearby outpost, all the while trying to survive the threats from the harsh elements, native american hunters, wild animals, and each other.

Shot beautifully by veteran cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, Birdman), The Revenant is becomes more breathtaking and visually complex with each passing moment. Like fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of MenGravity), Inarritu seems to have become fond of the long-shot, utilizing Lubezki camerawork to create a fully immersive and naturalistic narrative experience. By avoiding as much CGI as possible, the cast and crew painstakingly suffered through a lengthy, 9-month production phase where some allegedly ate, slept, and lived like their character counterparts for months on end.  DiCaprio said some scenes were “some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.” Aledegy, The Revenant far exceeded and nearly doubled its production budget.

All this dedication from the cast crew does payoff, with the end result being an absolutely brutal and realistic look into nature’s dark side. Inarritu is no stranger to suffering, with many of his previous films (21 Grams and Biutiful in particular) focusing in on the emotional impact of human sorrow. But in The Revenant, that suffering becomes more physical, intimate, and raw as we accompany one character’s journey to seek revenge after enduring hellish depths of physical and emotional pain. Inarritu knows how to foster incredible performances from his actors (DiCaprio is great as always, but Tom Hardy truly puts on a show), that, when combined with visual elements, create a compelling and rich story. At its core, it’s a man vs nature survival story, but The Revenant does show off a deeper, even spiritual side of the hellish nature.

Bottom Line: Expertly-directed with incredible attention to detail, The Revenant is a visceral, immensely rewarding, and near-spiritual experience, while still somehow equally as harrowing, ruthless and painful. 

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: Nihilistic wilderness survival of The Grey (2011) + savage violence and brutality from Game of Thrones 

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