Movie Review: The Revenant


R  |  156 min

by Jason Koenigsberg

Leonardo DiCaprio’s career long quest for an Oscar continues with his most recent output, The Revenant. This is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s first film since winning the Best Director Oscar last year for Birdman. Like the latter and all of this directors previous films, The Revenant has some glorious cinematography and keeping with the directors style it is a masterfully crafted film with some very long takes and a lot of “how did they do that?” types of shots. 

The opening image is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, lying on a bed of bear fur, that then pans over to reveal a Native American boy and woman in the same bed. We later learn that this is his wife and son. His wife is seen only in flashbacks and his son is a character that has a pivotal part in the adventure the audience is about to embark upon. 

One cannot properly describe The Revenant without mentioning its picturesque visuals. These are some of the best shots of nature in any film and are on par with the work of Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, Tree of Life). The camera work and wilderness cinematography really drive home the Man vs. Nature conflict central to the film. The photography really makes you feel that you are in frontier location somewhere in North America during the 1800’s, to the point where one might be very curious where they filmed it or if these beautiful locations are CGI. Also, like a Terrence Malick film, The Revenant is a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. It is loaded with a lot of religious imagery that are beautiful in their subtlety since they could resemble many religions with its mention of God and heaven. 

The authentic pioneer costumes also enhance The Revenant in terms of realism establishing a setting. It is no secret that DiCaprio’s character is mauled by a bear in the film (they show this in practically every trailer and TV commercial) so it was a very nice touch that there are scenes where he wore a bear hide after the attack that make a great artistic choice to drive home the symbolism between the man and the wild. The costumes of the Indians and the American trappers help make the film seem authentic. 

Without revealing too much of the plot, The Revenant also has a great Man vs. Man conflict between DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass and Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald. Both of these actors deliver powerhouse performances and deserve serious consideration in all Best Actor and Best Supporting Actors awards for this year. Hardy’s performance is far less physical than DiCaprio’s, but he creates a character that is very antagonistic and prejudice due to a horrible experience with Native Americans. 

Tom Hardy’s character and his conflict with DiCaprio’s reminded me of scenes from Oliver Stones Platoon (1986) where Tom Berenger’s vicious soldier butts heads with the more humanistic Willem Dafoe. In The Revenant, Hardy is like Berenger and DiCaprio is Dafoe. Because DiCaprio’s son is Native American this causes a rift between the two. This added an extra layer to The Revenant with strong themes of racism and color, making it almost like an origin story of how racism began in American History, not in the courtroom or on city streets, but out in the wilderness at the mercy of nature. 

The Revenant in a nutshell is like Jeremiah Johnson (1972) crossed with Platoon but with striking cinematography and intense visuals. There are great make up effects and DiCaprio’s body after the bear attack has wounds so graphic it looks like he could have been a victim in a horror movie. The violence in this movie usually occurs very suddenly and the action is relentless. Some scenes are absolutely brutal to watch and DiCaprio gives such a physical performance that his acting should be commended even though he does not have many lines. He probably speaks less in this film than any of his previous starring roles. 

There are many aspects to praise in The Revenant especially its acting and camera work, but it has its flaws. Some parts of DiCaprio’s survival are very far fetched. For as realistic as this film strives to be, it features some of the strongest mortally wounded people you will ever see in a prestigious film. Those moments will take you out of the movie a little because the rest of it expertly achieves a realistic tone. 

So, will Leonardo DiCaprio finally win the coveted Oscar and be named the Best Actor for The Revenant? Judging by the rest of the competition from 2015 for actors in a leading role, The Academy Award is his to lose. The Revenant is not the best performance of DiCaprio’s career, but its up there. 

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