The Revenant follows the painstaking journey of Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who is left for dead following a bear attack and his son murdered in front of him, to hunt down and claim revenge on the man responsible, John Fitzgerald. Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the film stars Leonardo Di Caprio as Hugh Glass, and Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, with Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter as other members of the fur trading party caught out in the wilderness in the early 1800s.
The film opens with Hugh Glass and his son quietly hunting for food in a shallow river, whilst nearby the fur trading expedition they are assisting are collecting pelts. After Hugh Glass’s gunshot echoes through the air from his latest kill the expedition are ambushed and attacked by Arikara Indians looking for a member of their tribe. The attack leaves the party massacred, with few remaining as they escape via boat. Having been taken off course by the attack Glass redirects them another way back to the fort. However the next day whilst exploring the area Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear leaving him with possibly fatal wounds, and extra weight for the weakened party to carry. This opening segment of the film is a distinctively beautiful, but brutal, beginning to a film that makes it’s own haunting expedition through the harsh lands of 1800s America.
Quite simply, The Revenant is a mesmerising piece of film. Every element is finely tuned, from it’s scintillating cinematography, stunning landscapes, glorious direction and great acting, it all comes together to produce one hell of a brilliantly crafted film. At it’s core Hugh Glass’s story, and the story of the film, is of basic revenge. You’ve seen it done countless times before, but here it feels like so much more. It is helped by the gruelling path filled with tribulation that Glass must take to get back to the fort and claim his revenge, but assisting in this is the terrible landscape he finds himself injured in. It is not a pleasant land to be lost in as its cold, desolate and full of danger, from the pursuing Arikara Indians to hazardous blizzards, there are huge obstacles that Glass must overcome every step of the way.
Though there are a few cast members, and notable faces, Leonardo Di Caprio steals the show. This may not be a surprise considering the ever growing talent of the leading man, but when you take into account that he only has a handful of lines with which to speak, the rest of his performance comes from facial expressions and body movement. With every contortion of his face you fully believe the pain and suffering that Hugh Glass is going through, not just the physical pain but the crippling emotion he is experiencing due to the death of his son. It’s a phenomenal performance that surpasses the mere reading of lines from a script. Di Caprio’s lead is amply supported by Tom Hardy and even Will Poulter, both continuing to go from strength to strength in the acting afforts.
However as great as the acting is in the film, the real stars are not its performers, but the people behind the lens. Emmanuel Lubezki and Alejandro G. Iñárritu are masters of their craft and have created such a tremendous experience of a film. For those familiar with Iñárritu’s last film Birdman you’ll be happy to know there are some great long tracking shots that move around the scenes, allowing action and events to happen naturally. It’s a much more effective way of directing than quick cuts and editing and I wish it was something used more often in films. It’s been well documented the use of only natural light by the creators of the film, and the arduous process has paid dividends though as the scenery and shots look fantastic.
If you hadn’t guessed it already we thought The Revenant is tremendous film that works on every level. Admittedly it won’t be to the tastes of everyone, the steadily paced middle act may be a little long for some, but when your recovering from a bear mauling your wounds don’t heal overnight. The Revenant is one of those rare films that scales the heights of film-making and art, without being pretentious. Its a passionately crafted film where the heart and soul of everybody involved is bared for all to see on screen. It looks beautiful, and feels brutal, a genuine piece of brilliance.