Last year, Alejandro Iñárritu gave us “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” and it was fantastic. In taking a look at “The Revenant,” Iñárritu’s latest film, the two couldn’t be more polar opposites than if they’d been from different parts of the galaxy. This is truly to Iñárritu’s credit that the films are so vastly different. “The Revenant” is set entirely in a natural outdoor setting and its story of revenge a simple one. The film proves that the destination can be just as satisfying as the journey, if the intensity of the film is anything to go by.
Based on true events and, in part, on the novel by Michael Punke, “The Revenant” follows the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an explorer, is brutally attacked by a bear in the frigid winter during the middle of an expedition led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). At death’s door, he’s left in the care of his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), an aggressive man named John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), and Bridger (Will Poulter). After Fitzgerald betrays him, Glass gathers all his remaining strength in order to exact his revenge.
Emmanuel Lubezki, who worked on Iñárritu’s last film as well as on Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” and “Children of Men,” provides us once more with one of the most visually stunning films of the year. The cinematography is incomparable and has probably topped several lists. The use of nature in its cold and gruesome glory highlights the dangers as well as the beauty to be found in it. It complements the film’s overall atmosphere and manages to bestow serenity and peace upon a film where the plot is neither.
DiCaprio as Hugh Glass turns in one of his most powerful and outstanding performances in a long line of outstanding performances, so this saying something. His dialogue isn’t overflowing, and if he does speak, it’s mostly in Pawnee, a Native American language, but DiCaprio finds a balance with both his physical agility as well as his facial expressions that allow us to understand his character’s pain and tragedy without having to speak very often. Tom Hardy has worn many masks, but this year alone he’s played three characters that don’t speak very much either, but can be gruesome nonetheless. His character here is probably the worst of all though, as he’s aggressive and undeniably cruel for no apparent reason, the ultimate character to love to hate.
The remainder of the cast, including Domhnall Gleeson, who’s also turned in several wonderful and varied performances in the last year, offer good buffers between DiCaprio and Hardy, but the film ultimately belongs to DiCaprio. Iñárritu has spoken about the film and how he allowed the harsh conditions of the weather and production difficulties to help his actors rather than deter them. And it’s evident in the very raw and passionate performances that this method worked.
“The Revenant” is everything a great movie should be. It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and the movie speaks to you without having to carry on with dialogue-filled scenes. It’s gut-wrenching suspense and characters at their most basic level instinctively. Iñárritu takes a risk but delivers a gorgeous film that’s hard to take your eyes from.