Review – The Revenant

You have to give Alejandro González Iñárritu his due; few directors generate as many column inches and heated opinions as the Oscar-winning Mexican.

In the end, Iñárritu will always be an awards darling so long as he produces works such as The Revenant, but this work remains as cold as the snow-bound landscapes he portrays

In the end, Iñárritu will always be an awards darling so long as he produces works such as The Revenant, but this work remains as cold as the snow-bound landscapes he portrays

Whereas 2015’s Birdman caused a stir upon its release, Iñárritu’s latest has divided audiences like few other motion pictures of recent years.

Some have labelled The Revenant a masterpiece of epic proportions, while others have branded it nothing more than “pain porn”.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes mano v mano against a grizzly in The Revenant

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes mano v mano against a grizzly in The Revenant

Whilst this reviewer wouldn’t go quite so far as that, The Revenant, though more effective than Birdman, is remarkably similar in its failure to generate more than respectful admiration for its technical artistry rather than the adoration the film and its director undoubtedly crave.

Iñárritu deserves credit and, yes, admiration for refusing to compromise on his artistic vision and for leading his cast and crew on what at times must have felt like an endeavour of Herzogian proportions.

It’s certainly hard to argue against the spectacle on show, courtesy of Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman), whose bleakly beautiful compositions give you an uncomfortable appreciation of how unforgiving – and cold – the vast wilderness of the American frontier (actually shot in Canada and Argentina) in 1823 must have been for those seeking to exploit its resources.

The unforgiving John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) in The Revenant

The unforgiving John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) in The Revenant

Among those in country are trappers Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), his half-native son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the clearly unbalanced Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy in full on crazy eyes mode) and Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), who captains the party. An ambush by natives deals a severe blow, which is compounded when Glass is mauled by a bear and left clinging on to life.

Left for dead and with a thirst for vengeance following a brutal act of violence by Fitzgerald, Glass summons the will against all odds to claw his way back to life and go in search of retribution.

Capt Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) in The Revenant

Capt Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) in The Revenant

Much has been made in the media of the hardships visited upon cast and crew in bringing The Revenant to the screen and the several ‘makings of’ showing DiCaprio etc talking about eating raw bison liver or suffering near hypothermia that have appeared online are about as shameless an attempt at Oscar baiting as you’ll likely to see.

That being said, it’s nevertheless laudable watching the lengths the cast and DiCaprio especially put themselves through to achieve authenticity. Hardy mumbles and looks unhinged, while Will Poulter is excellent as fellow trapper Jim Bridger, ashamed at not having the strength of will to ignore self-preservation. This is Leo’s show, however, and the actor puts in a fully committed performance of foaming intensity, practically losing himself in the part; his every tortured expression blown up by the numerous extreme close-ups.

Give me an Oscar! Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Revenant

Give me an Oscar! Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Revenant

The film’s one obvious use of CGI (there are other less transparent moments) comes during the already infamous bear attack sequence, a horrifying, stomach-churning confrontation that has quite rightly earned its reputation. The attack on the trappers near to the start of the film is equally well staged, veering from one blood-spattered moment to the next as the men find themselves horribly outmatched.

All this spectacle sears itself on the corneas, but never penetrates the heart. Glass is visited on several occasions by ethereal visions of his dead wife, à la Gladiator (which the film owes a nod to), and while the narrative reasoning is understandable, these moments of strained spirituality fail to work because they feel crowbarred in to inject some form of emotional connection.

Mountain man: Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) in The Revenant

Mountain man: Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) in The Revenant

More often than not, you find yourself admiring a shot (the numerous slow motion pans of tree tops notwithstanding) and thinking of how wonderfully composed it is rather than being swept along.

In the end, Iñárritu will always be an awards darling so long as he produces works such as The Revenant, but this work remains as cold as the snow-bound landscapes he portrays.

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18 comments

  1. alexraphael · February 8, 2016

    Leo has deserved a best actor Oscar for a while, so that doesn’t bother me as much as it should. Cool review dude. Found myself nodding to pretty much everything.

    • Three Rows Back · February 8, 2016

      I wouldn’t begrudge Leo getting the Oscar here; it’s his time. Cheers for the feedback mate.

      • alexraphael · February 8, 2016

        Do you have a favourite performance of his btw?

  2. le0pard13 · February 8, 2016

    Agreed.

  3. ckckred · February 8, 2016

    Nice review man. I know a lot of people like his stuff but I greatly dislike Iñárritu’s work. Both Birdman and Babel struck me as pretentious and despite the critical hype behind The Revenant, I have little desire to see this.

    • Three Rows Back · February 10, 2016

      Cheers mate. I enjoyed Amorres Perros as it marked out what I thought was a new voice in cinema, However, there’s been a law of diminishing returns since then and while this isn’t awful it isn’t nearly as deep and important as it thinks it is.

  4. Zoë · February 9, 2016

    Excellent review. While I enjoyed The Revenant (good performances and looked great), it is not something I will be rushing out to see again, but is something I definitely enjoyed infinitely more than Birdman (I just didn’t love that).

    • Three Rows Back · February 10, 2016

      Thanks Zoe! Yeah, it’s better than Birdman and will no doubt do well come awards time, but it won’t stand the test of time.

  5. vinnieh · February 9, 2016

    Excellent review, it sounds like Leo could finally get that Oscar.

    • Three Rows Back · February 10, 2016

      Cheers mate. Well, I wouldn’t begrudge him the Oscar, but the film ain’t nearly as profound as it thinks it is.

      • vinnieh · February 11, 2016

        I’m gonna have to see it. I am seeing Spotlight later today.

      • Three Rows Back · February 11, 2016

        Think you’ll like that!

  6. Dan O. · February 9, 2016

    It’s a hard movie to watch, but I remained glued about the whole way through. Nice review.

    • Three Rows Back · February 10, 2016

      Thanks Dan. Sounds like you got more out of it than me!

  7. Jordan Dodd · February 11, 2016

    Great piece. Pretty much what I thought of the film, almost exactly actually! Especially this part, re- seeing his wife in hallucinations: ” these moments of strained spirituality fail to work because they feel crowbarred in to inject some form of emotional connection.” Well said sir. Technically you can’t beat it really but there wasn’t much more than that. They also didn’t display how much time was passing also, making Leo look like he is super human, unable to walk at all after the bear and a couple of hours later able to dart around the place. It seems trivial but that aspect kept pulling me out of the movie, so the amazing visuals didn’t have the affect on me that they probably should have

    • Three Rows Back · February 15, 2016

      Thanks very much Jordan. It’s Bafta win is a pretty sure sign that it’ll sweep up at the Oscars; can’t say as I’m surprised.

  8. Ben · March 7, 2016

    I loved this movie. I hated Birdman but I don’t think that film was for me. There is more to enjoy in the story in Revenent and although it is strange in places, at least it is clear, which at times Birdman definitely was not.

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