By Vincent Abbatecola
A talented filmmaker should have the abilities to transport audiences into the world within their movie. If the director has the skill to capture the details of a certain place on camera, the filmmaker will make it simple for the audience to become heavily invested in what’s happening within this place.
Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu achieves this as he brings us one of the most visceral moviegoing experiences in 2015 cinema for his revenge drama, “The Revenant.” With an intense central performance, thrilling direction, a stunning story inspired by true events, and masterful cinematography, audiences are given a film that throws them into cold and life-threatening terrains as they follow the main character on his quest for vengeance.
In the 1820s, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a handful of his fellow hunters escape a raid by Native Americans. While venturing through the woods, Glass is separated from his group and is mauled and nearly killed by a bear. His crew believes he is near death, and carrying him slows their trip. Their captain, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) asks for Hugh’s son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), and two other hunters, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), to stay with him until he passes, while the others go on to return home. Believing that it’s dangerous to wait around and possibly be attacked, John decides to try and kill Hugh, and manages to murder Hawk in the process when he tries to defend his father. After being left for dead, Hugh eventually begins to make his way through the harsh conditions of the wild as he tracks down those who wronged him.
Although Leonardo DiCaprio’s role doesn’t really go beyond him trying to survive in the wilderness, it still allows him to show his near-unparalleled power as an actor. Even with minimal dialogue throughout the film, DiCaprio manages to draw us with his acting that’s as raw as the world he must face. We’ve seen him portray figures such as Jordan Belfort, Jay Gatsby, J. Edgar Hoover, and Howard Hughes, but this is something completely different. This is DiCaprio in an environment in which we have never seen him act, something that brings us uncomfortably close to the mercilessness of the environment his character finds himself in, and DiCaprio shows he is an actor will do whatever he can to deliver the truest performance the story deserves.
Tom Hardy offers a stellar supporting performance as a man who, just like Glass, will do whatever he can to survive, but by much more abominable means. As a savage hunter, John is a character who is as loathsome as he is cowardly, and Hardy provides him with as much grit as DiCaprio in bringing to life what the experience of the wild has done to him.
Emmanuel Lubezki offers some of the most stunning cinematography of his career, and this is an individual who has already displayed tremendous camerawork for films like “Birdman,” “Gravity,” and “Children of Men.” Just as he did in those films, he employs an extensive use of long takes in order to have the audience experience the true lengthiness of certain portions of Hugh’s journey. Lubezki also employs gorgeous imagery of the frontier landscapes to provide a sense of scale and grandness for Hugh’s travels.
One of the most brutal sequences in the film is, of course, the bear attack on Hugh. Filmed in one long take, the camera never turns away from the brutal mauling. You see everything that happens to Hugh and are faced with the whole grueling duration of the attack. This scene establishes that Lubezki and Iñárritu won’t shy away from showing whatever dangers may come throughout the rest of the film.
The screenplay by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, which is partly based on Michael Punke’s 2002 work “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge,” is a rather simple story for the most part, with a majority of the narrative focusing on Glass attempting to seek revenge. But, near the end, it offers something a little more philosophical when it brings the concept of revenge into question, an argument that appears in the last five minutes of the film and offers the viewer something to ponder as they leave the treacherous landscapes.
As a whole, the narrative offers a few different story threads that follow Hugh, a tribe of Native Americans, and a group of French frontiersmen, all of whom interlock with each other. This allows the film to have more going on then simply just Hugh trying to get back home, and offers the story a little more dramatic heft.
Iñárritu is merciless when it comes to placing the audience in the windswept, snow-covered terrains he depicts. Through the imagery of the environment that’s shown, he explores the themes of revenge and redemption and raises the question if revenge is something that should be acted upon as a natural instinct within us, or if it’s something that will occur in time by forces beyond our control. This film is a truly immersive experience, an artful adventure that must be experienced on the big screen in order to feel it’s unyielding strength. “The Revenant” will take viewers on a difficult odyssey, but it’s one to go on if you want to feel the tight grip cinema can have on you
Final grade: A-