Alejandro González Iñárritu returns at his best, releasing an incredible achievement in film: The Revenant. The story involves 19th century trappers leaving their navigational expert, Hugh Glass (Leo DiCaprio) for dead, who then finds his own way through the cruel wilderness back into civilization. There is more to the plot, obviously, but it is such a simple one that mentioning anything else would feel like a spoiler. Ironically using a story that has been told before in both film and novel-form, the film deals with revenge, man versus nature and the effects of colonialism and warfare in a very original way.
Tackling the most impressive aspect first, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography for this film is absolutely breath taking. While under the pressure of actors wanting to facilitate their own lives, Iñárritu’s insistence to continue shooting only with natural light has resulted in some of the most amazing visuals in all of film history. And of course, this isn’t where the magic of filming ends for the film. Blending this beautiful scenery with the juxtaposing gore and violence of the 19th century West worked terrifically, and amidst this chaos, many of the shots were long single takes that seemed impossible to shoot.
The special effects were meticulously worked on to keep The Revenant from looking unrealistic at all times. This touch helped emphasise the general tone of the film, which was unforgiving and cold. Through the use of close-ups, spine-chilling sounds and a devotion to this realistic depiction, every conflict was intense, highly discomforting and thrilling. Even as the film progressed and there had already been a fair set of violent scenes, the intensity would never cease in each point of action. Another excellent feature to draw out from this intensity is the music; Ryuichi Sakamoto’s unsettling score amplified this prevalent tone masterfully. Each violent moment of the film was accompanied by Sakamoto’s horror-like drums and eerie sound effects, smoothly complementing the callous yet picturesque setting of the outdoors.
And let’s not forget the actors, who were brought along on this incredible but challenging ride in order to accomplish Iñárritu’s vision. DiCaprio is on top form once again, giving another exciting performance where the level of devotion he brings is unmatchable. Though DiCaprio doesn’t have much dialogue in the film, the amount of physical pain he goes through, the cold he bears for the sake of the scenes and the fact that most of those long single shots focus on him maintains DiCaprio’s reputation as one of the hardest working actors today. Tom Hardy was also pleasantly great, making the most of his role as a greedy farmer who’s only true faith is in the law of the jungle. But one of the biggest surprises in the acting department of the film is Will Poulter; moving towards more mature films (his résumé consists of a Narnia film, Maze Runner and We’re The Millers before this gory spectacle), Poulter’s acting is at its finest here, playing a victim of deceit in a moral conundrum and creating an anxiety-inducing atmosphere for the audience.
One of the main reasons the film succeeds is also an aspect that is wrongly criticised by many. The verdict for the film seems to be that its cinematography is masterful, but that the film itself falls short on substance. Personally, it’s difficult to believe that unless you aren’t looking hard enough. Throughout the film, one thing that stands clear is that Iñárritu, like a novelist, shows that he knows his predecessors in his art. Andy Mckendry credits the film’s influences to be Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick and Alejandro Jodorowsky; while the first two are evident in some aspects, Jodorwosky’s presence is a bit more obvious as the film literally recreates a shot from The Holy Mountain as a tribute. The specific shot recreated is one famously known as representative of the execution of innocent people, painting The Revenant with undertones of this constant paradox between the brutality of war and the irrespective continuation of it. As well as coming to an understanding of humanity’s diverse relationships with violence, Hardy’s character, John Fitzgerald, gives an incredible monologue that not only justifies his motives, but also explores a type of philosophy that certainly must rule the minds of soldiers in times of turmoil and warfare.
Was this a perfect film? No, of course not. Hardy wasn’t completely discernible in his speech (this criticism might be inflated due to his issues with being understood in previous films); the dialogue was at times too simplistic, even for a film about 19th century trappers; and some of the voices were out of sync with the actors talking during one or two points. With all this in mind, no film is perfect, and in our appreciations of legendary pieces of cinema there will always be points in which we may spot errors. Therefore, The Revenant remains an astonishing accomplishment, a journey into the deep levels of animosity and loss, packed with intensity, beauty and wonderful acting.
By Thomas Rososchansky.