The Revenant (2015)
“He would crawl until his body could support a crutch. If he only made three miles a day, so be it. Better to have those three miles behind him than ahead.” (Michael Punke, “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge”)
In Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film “The Revenant”, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, an American frontiersman involved in an expedition to American wilderness in the year 1823. After a bear attack leaves Glass seriously injured, one of his companions decides to betray him, and among other horrific actions, leaves him behind. What follows is Glass’s unforgettable journey back to the outpost, to find the man who not only left him for dead, but also robbed him of the one dearest to him.
Without any doubt, “The Revenant” is the movie to watch for a “survival in the wilderness” course. Although based on a true story, Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith (scriptwriters) really put Glass through every imaginable hardship in a wintry American wilderness, from hunger and cold to Indian tribe attacks, for example, making the hero to devise some unconventional warming techniques so as to stay alive. In that way, Glass becomes some sort of a martyr who unjustly drags himself through the unknown territory while encountering more dangers along the way.
The realism of the picture and the beauty of some shots cannot be overemphasized, as beside the masterfully presented scenery, the movie was also shot on location. Iñárritu is a real master in presenting the portrayal of human endurance both powerfully and beautifully at the same time. His portrayal is also touched with that magical surrealism or mysticism that, supposedly, brings to this picture depth of meaning and philosophical foundations. Part of the credit for this is due to Emmanuel Lubezki (“Children of Men” (2006), “The Tree of Life” (2011)) who with his unusual cinematographic techniques creates a feeling as though one is truly near those men making their journey through icy and gloomy American wilderness, even though Lubezki’s love for camera spinning and focus may irritate some.
However, amidst the beauty of the wildness and the fascinating story, we also have Iñárritu’s uncomplimentary trademarks. Famous for his “Amores Perros” (2000), Iñárritu also previously directed “21 Grams” (2003) and “Biutiful” (2010). Both of these movies are visually intoxicating and full of some inexplicable artistic merit, but, unfortunately, suffer badly form the director’s chaotic filming style, lack of adequate structure and ideas. Arguably, what inevitably saves these two movies from a total fiasco is the actors’ outstanding performances. In “Biutiful” there is, of course, grim, but charismatic Javier Bardem, and in “21 Grams”, there are determined Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro, among others. Although winning the Academy Award for the Best Picture, Iñárritu’s “Birdman” (2014) more or less follows the same course of uneventful sequences.
This is not to say that Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance (or Tom Hardy’s acting) in “The Revenant” saves the film from a collapse, but it is such a big contributing factor to the film’s success, it is very hard to ignore. DiCaprio is great in portraying Glass with just enough maniac enthusiasm for survival so as not to overdo it. Surely, an Academy Award win is virtually guaranteed? DiCaprio is supported by the equally brilliant support cast. Tom Hardy plays John Fitzgerald, a hostile and cunning trapper, with brilliance, and Domhnall Gleeson in the role of Captain Andrew Henry is also good.
Although the movie presents violence realistically and, thanks to Dicaprio, human emotion is acutely felt, the plot is far from realism. In “The Revenant”, Hugh Glass not only barely survives a bear attack, cold and hunger, but manages to swirl away from hundreds of natives’ arrows and even to survive a mountain fall, as though Iñárritu could not quite settle on the most extreme example of human endurance. In that way, like a cat, Glass seems to have nine lives, progressing from being totally crippled due to the bear attack to being perfectly fit for a long-distance run by the end of the movie.
“The Revenant” (or maybe more accurately put: “The Passion of Leo”) may be too brutal and gory for some, containing Iñárritu’s usual peculiar story-telling and camerawork that may not necessarily please everyone. However, what the movie does provide, and what makes it great, is the stunning visual realism, actors’ incomparable acting skills, and a gripping story of hardship and revenge in rural America. 8/10