Release: 6th June 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Inspired by true events, The Revenant is an epic story of survival and transformation on the American frontier. While on an expedition into the uncharted wilderness, legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally mauled by a bear, then abandoned by members of his own hunting team. Alone and near death, Glass refuses to succumb.
The Revenant is dare we say it, a rather spiritual experience. From Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s physics defying camera work, to Emmanuel Lubezki dreamy landscapes, to Nicolai and Sakamoto’s ethereal score, The Revenant is like an out of body experience through the American myth and beyond the veil of human experience. This is a film that treats brutality with the same reverence as prayer; often juxtaposing the two. One scene in particular features a snowy landscape with a trail of blood leading into a river. It is a well played moment of poetry and we all know the Christian iconography involving water and blood. It is a film littered with non-denominational pseudo-piety; with medicine men, ghosts, crumbling churches, and as you might expect a healthy dose of neopaganism. The Revenant may have everyone talking about that bear, that horse or that liver, but at its core it is about that question; what drives the soul?
On a technical level, this is a film that comes at the pinnacle of moviemaking magic, whilst also combining some of the trade’s most dated methods. The whole film is a marriage of new and old. One of the most advance cameras of the moment (Arri Alexa 65) captures everything with nothing but natural light, visual effects cross the uncanny valley without so much as breaking a sweat while the cast and crew suffer nature’s wrath without a man-made set in sight. It would seem that Iñárritu wanted the authenticity of a classical film without sacrificing any of his super modern vision; and it really works. Just look at that bear attack; one of cinema’s greatest moments.
Aside from Tom Hardy’s “has he just had a stroke?” accent, the one thing which detracts from The Revenant’s beguiling atmosphere is the script. Mark Smith and Iñárritu may have taken great lengths to plump up the truth behind Hugh Glass, and also sandwich in the director’s overall themes, but what suffers is a lack dimension to the characters. That is to say, aside from DiCaprio’s well rounded and beautifully pained performance, the rest of the cast fall into the categories of archetype or forgettable. Hardy is mean, Domhnall Gleeson is tired, Will Poutler is your neighborhood bitch. The rest are all just dirty men who eventually die or end up set dressing a tavern. Paul Anderson barely registers and Forrest Goodluck gets to do little more than growl as Hawk. This isn’t to say that the performances are bad, but rather that this is a star vehicle in the truest sense. Were it not for Duane Hoawrd’s menacing Elk Dog and Arthur RedCloud’s enchanting turn as Hikuc, The Revenant would truly boil down to watching DiCaprio put himself through the wringer for two beautiful dreamlike hours.
The scripting issues may be a small qualm to have, but it is the one thing which stops The Revenant from being a perfect piece of filmmaking. This is easily Iñárritu’s best film to date, and will rightfully live on as a great moment in film history. It is a physical experience as well as a psychological one, and should continue to engage audiences for years to come. The Revenant brings us a world that feels like a cleansing of the spirit. Like the film’s closing image, it is a world that drifts off leaving a resonance and realization that we must now venture on alone; and when a film leaves you wanting more that much, you know it’s good.
Film Grade: A
The film comes with one feature. It may be a glorified ecowarrior message, but the Making Of is just as visually stunning as the film it accompanies. It is a fresh and homely take on the meaning of the film rather than just its transition to screen. If you hadn’t already sought this one out on YouTube or National Geographic, then you are in for a pleasant surprise.
Special Features Grade: C+
There are very few films that should be in everyone’s personal collection, but The Revenant is definitely one of them. A few more features would not have gone amiss, but you’ll probably be too busy enjoying the film four times over to care.