The Revenant Review

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By Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

Gas prices, standstill traffic, the cost of living, time constraints…life isn’t easy for humans in this day and age. But when life is put into perspective, like only a masterful director with the help of a visually captivating cinematographer can do, what we tend to think of as hardships makes us feel ashamed for our pettiness and become more grateful for that which we do have. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Academy Award-winning director for last year’s Birdman, brings us another amazing story set in the frontier of Missouri during the early days of the United States. Punishing, visceral, and utterly captivating, Iñárritu brings to us another film sure to be nominated for various awards with his latest film, The Revenant.

The Frontier, 1820’s: a group of beaver trappers, working for the Rocky Mountain Fur Co., hunts animal pelts to make their living. Lead by tracker Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), they are soon attacked by Arikara warriors known as The Ree, leaving their hunting party injured and drastically reduced in numbers. Glass’s only real concern is his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a Pawnee child and the only living remnant of his Pawnee wife. While scouting ahead, Glass spots bear cubs and is immediately attacked by a protective grizzly bear mother, leaving him on the brink of death. Trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is tasked with taking care of Glass and getting him back to civilization while earning a substantial payment for his services. But when Glass witnesses the unthinkable in his dire situation, and is left behind to die of his wounds, he summons up the only strength he has left to get revenge for the horrors he’s endured. Will Glass be able to overcome his wounds, the freezing colds, and the hunting Ree Indians to claim his revenge or will he become another death of the unforgiving frontier?

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The Revenant is as beautiful as it is violent and unrelenting, and because of that, it won’t be for everyone. Iñárritu stood out with his use of the long shot found in Birdman, and he uses it here again, but to lesser extremes, with huge success. From wide angle shots of the gorgeous panoramic views (filmed in Canada and Argentina) to close up shots tracking through forested landscapes and ice covered rivers, Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lebezki’s cinematography make such a harsh and violent climate come through with such beauty and majesty that you can’t but look on in awe. With his extended takes, particularly one in which Glass is mauled by the grizzly bear, the tension and sheer terror is so high, you hardly notice your lack of breathing or that real terror that has built up inside of you. Though the bear is CGI in many elements, it looks 100% real and the violence of the scene is only what we could imagine would happen from an actual bear attack. It’s almost hard to watch because you know the outcome can’t be good, even if we take that moment to remind ourselves that this is a film. The sound and audio cues also feel blood-lettingly real and is so gracefully supported by the scoring from Ryuichi Sakamoto. Just brilliant works of art displayed by all the technicians on this film.

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All of the beautiful artistry done by the director, director of photography, or audio technicians is nothing without those wonderful actors bringing the text to life. And life the words were given. Leonardo DiCaprio is the main face of this film. The thing is, his actual dialogue in the film is as minimal as a lead character can get. For most of the film, he’s all but speechless, conveying everything through the use of his body: the primary tool of the actor. The Revenant gives DiCaprio what we call a “transformative role,” that which we saw from Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, what we see from Daniel Day-Lewis in about every role. We do not see DiCaprio on screen, we see Hugh Glass. We see a man who loves his son, who mourns the death of his wife, and who will do everything to make things right. DiCaprio pushes his craft to the kind of physical and psychological extremes that set aside a great performance from one that will be remembered for all time to come. That’s what he brings to this role, and, though that Oscar has evaded him numerous times before, should earn him his overdue accolades now.

Opposite DiCaprio is Tom Hardy, who is just as good but in a different way. Hardy has plenty of dialogue to play with and interactions with other characters to flesh out his character. He is sinister, self-motivated, and yet, we have seen Hardy play characters like this before. Characters who are arrogant, aggressive, boastful, and intimidating, but Hardy continues to find new ways to approach these character aspects and, like DiCaprio, allows himself to fully embrace the character, the time period, and the nuances of life, from tone of voice to how he carries himself. Hardy continues to give us new ways to truly appreciate the artist he is and the work he leaves on screen. He’s a complex and fascinating performer, able to do so much with what appears to be little effort. But it’s those little things that really set his characters apart.

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Violent, brutal, gut wrenching, and heart-tearing, Iñárritu’s The Revenant is a masterpiece in film making across the board. The Glass-Fitzgerald conflict is really the driving point behind the story, and when we veer from that element, the story can tend to bog down at times. But even in these parts, we have something visually stunning to admire or a life moral to ponder. With DiCaprio, we are given a class in the excellence of acting and can only applaud the physical and emotional work he provides us as an audience. You won’t see many performances like that which DiCaprio delivers, nor will you see a film quite like that which Iñárritu presents. All of the elements are there for Oscar gold, which means pure enjoyment on so many levels for the audience.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


    One Comment

  1. Claudette H. GuyDecember 21st, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks Justin Jasso. Great review and well said.

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