The Revenant has been on my list of to-watch films since January of 2015. It was promised in December, but we’ve had to wait a couple extra weeks for it. And amid several Oscar nominations (and a possible Best Actor win for its main star), let see if the hype is lived up to.
The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck and is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The film follows Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) in the early 19th Century, who after a bear attack is left for dead. He comes back to get his revenge on those who left him behind.
Iñárritu as a director has a very odd camera style. Instead of the usual editing, cutting between multiple cameras, Iñárritu usually has long tracking shots of his actors. We saw a hyper version of it in his last film, Birdman and here it is exactly the same. The beautiful long shots of the Native American attack that opens the film, or the bear attack that puts the films story in motion are incredible, and change the old question of “How did they film that?” to “How did they film that and have nobody get hurt?” The attacks are blood soaked, with gunfire going off, people being brought down by a flurry of arrows or being thrown from their horse. And the camera keeps going…and going…and going, not cutting for sometimes ten to fifteen minutes at a time.
While DiCaprio has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for The Revenant (with many saying that this will be his winning year), I can’t agree. Sure, if Best Actor was changed to the award for Mouth Breathing and Exertion Noises then Leo would win hands down, but he doesn’t really perform in the film. He just gets the crap beaten out of him over and over again. Towards the end of the film I thought Iñárritu just hates his protagonist, the amount of pain and danger he puts him through is astronomical. Tom Hardy fairs better as Fitzgerald, but the signature Hardy Mumble (seen in The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless) does appear, meaning you have to strain your ears to understand him. The best of the cast is Domhnall Gleeson as Captain Henry, the leader of Glass and Fitzgerald’s group, who in the final third get’s to show some menace and anger, showing what a broad actor Gleeson is.
The film’s story (based on true events, like nearly every single film in the cinema is that isn’t a Marvel property) is pretty simple; man gets revenge on those who wronged him. Iñárritu has a writing credit on the film, and he’s managed to stretch the story to 156 minutes and across three countries (Canada, USA and Argentina were all used for filming) which is way too long for a film like this. While it’s nice to see the snowy plains (The Revenant is definitely going for the “Travel Cinema” crowd), once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. But Iñárritu keeps coming back to them, adding nothing to the story and making the audience bored.
The soundtrack, created by Ryuichi Sakamoto, is very atmospheric and brooding, but it only gets used for mere seconds at a time. There are hardly any moments in the film where the soundtrack plays for a substantial amount, which is rather annoying given how good it is. Instead, we are usually left with the sounds of nature and it’s in some of these moments that the films sound design shines. The wind howls, the trees groan under the pressure and the leaves rustle, it all adding up to create a sense of isolation. Like I said in my Alois Nebel review, films like this create the sense of being truly alone, with nature all around you.
In conclusion, The Revenant is a mixed bag. While the cinematography and setting are great, the lack of characterisation, story arc and bloated run time hurt an otherwise fine film.
Score: 7/10 Sadly not as good as it I perceived it to be.