The Revenant is both a treat for the senses and a visceral ordeal, representing revenge storytelling at its most bleak and compelling. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, 21 Grams, Amores Perros), The Revenant revolves around the solid, spittle-and-blood flecked performances of Leonardo DiCaprio, playing Hugh Glass -a haunted frontiersman- and the venerable acting chameleon Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald -hunter and massive wanker.
You’ll get the heft of the plot from the trailer below, so I would tend to avoid it and take a punt if you haven’t watched it already (plus the rest of this paragraph). It’s a simple story – Glass has a son who is Native American, Fitzgerald has beef with them for various reasons, including race. Glass gets attacked, Fitzgerald does some bad bad things and leaves Glass for dead. Glass then, almost utterly broken, battles the elements (nature and man) to hunt Fitzgerald down. There’s a little more too it, but not a lot. I found myself in suspension of disbelief mode a little given all of the blows that nature and man deal Glass throughout the film, but; due largely to the acting and in no small part due to how the excellent camerawork makes you feel you are there, nothing quite seems beyond the realms of possibility.
The Revenant feels at times like a brutal and unforgiving, yet beautifully-shot nature film with two scene-stealing actors at the helm. The lead performances are unsurprisingly terrific, with some great support from the Native American and (un-?) Native American contingents to boot. As far as inhabiting a character goes, Tom Hardy, as ever, delivers in spades. He’s a twitchy, half-scalped irritation with nervous eyes, who escalates to become another beast entirely at the first mention of money. He’s about as far away from (mostly) mild-mannered John Locke or (fairly nuts) Bronson as you can get. He’s also the instigator of the film’s few laughs. Very possibly he steals the show, but then nobody can deny the physicality DiCaprio brings to his performance. You suffer along with him through every bump, scrape and mauling. Thanks in part to injury, he’s less vocal than his coin’s flip-side and arguably more psychologically damaged. In all his soily, bloody, spitty, death-stuppory glory DiCaprio delivers, even if it’s still, at times, simply Leo (let’s face it, Tom Hardy’s way more Lon Chaney in his character transformations, you’d be forgiven for not recognising him).
While this film deviates from the true story of Hugh Glass (though he was indeed mauled by a bear and had beef with a chap named Fitzgerald), tonally the film feels spot-on. Obviously I wasn’t around during the bleak times the film depicts, but accounts steer towards them being dark, bloody and wholly unforgiving. Great costumes aid authenticity and breathtaking scenery makes it feel like you are there back when, inhabiting that land at that time. I don’t have all the words for camerawork, but having seen a lot of movies, there’s a lot here I haven’t seen before. Artistic while still entirely watchable, The Revenant is allowed to feel, breathe and generally world-build thanks to expert, sweeping cinematography. I could watch an hour of the opening shots with the trees growing from the river (or is it a flood?) or the high peaks dwarfing the speck that’s Leo out in the distance, or the horse’s glass-like eyes, or the tops of the trees creaking as their branches rub together. You inhabit this land for the duration and it’s glorious. Mercifully there are few noticeable special effects besides the bear, which looks pretty good and convincingly menacing. Anything else effect-wise has passed me by because everything looks the part and feels palpably real.
For quite a lot of the film (especially the last 20 minutes) I realised I had a less than flattening grimace I couldn’t quite alter (my face is a bit like that anyway). It’s not for the squirmish, or indeed the weak-bladdered, clocking in at 157 minutes. The themes, as you’ll have come to realise, are pretty heavy. Revenge, intolerance, respect, loss and brutality are all explored to great effect as Glass struggles for a foothold in an unforgiving world, driven only by rage. For me, this film conjures images of The Grey (2011), a (proper) Liam Neeson-led film, but -perhaps minus scale- comparative to any adeptly handled, and elegantly polished revenge-based flick.
Trudging back from the cinema to the car on a none-too-exotic Bath Spa evening felt like a sinch after what we’d endured. ‘Its’ on the list’ my girlfriend replied, when asked for her verdict. And by God, not a lot makes it onto the list. See it, now, but if you’re after a laugh-a-minute, or something heavy on plot, don’t. Then wrap up warm with a cup of tea and then seek a little quiet by the fire. You’ll need it.