This grueling experience is elevated by its visual achievements. The Revenant is practically a fantasy of mine as a boy on how I would shoot a dirty, gritty survival movie. Set in the mid-1800’s within the cold blizzards of the Midwest, it is ideal content for director Alejandro Inarritu to unleash his roving camera and to capture icy blues and greys under natural light. It would almost be enough to say that the cinematography is the movie. I’d be almost tempted to say it’s an overbloated test of survival and revenge story. Except who would want to cut any of these magnificent visuals from the final cut? I know it’s just a movie, but I felt the biting cold somehow. I zipped up my jacket while in my seat, which I never do.
Leonardo DiCaprio is now the frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar. The acting is a likening to having a pitchfork stuck up his ass, for what the role requires of him is to withstand interminable cold and pain. That’s not to say that he’s bad. To me, DiCaprio is almost never not great. I cared neither “Body of Lies” or “J. Edgar,” but they’re not lousy enough to even call them blights on his remarkable career. I just wish now he had won the Oscar for his eccentric, flashy character in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Now that was an actor’s showcase.
For this film, DiCaprio’s character Hugh Glass is a key part of a fur-trapping expedition that is interrupted by violent American Indians. Shooting bows and arrows and tomahawks are weapons that fly in from off the sides of the frame. Glass and the survivors retreat onto the river, and then scuttle up into the mountains to lose their enemies. By freak occurrence, there is a bear mauling – which is caught in all its real time unfolding savagery, which is mesmerizing – and our torn apart hero is left behind with three men who will bury him when his body gives out, with certainty everybody thinks. The bulk of the crew treks to home base.
The adversary of this piece, besides mother nature, is Tom Hardy as a husky kook named John Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald with his cruel heart should be the last man to be given the task to stay with Glass, but he jumps at the assignment for the extra money. Once on duty, Fitzgerald would rather bury Glass alive and one-off his son. Glass gets away by a narrow margin, believed to be left for dead, and makes an arduous journey motivated by revenge.
Hardy gets to play the filthy yakker, who uses his imposing size and lewdness to intimidate others. DiCaprio has less than two hundred words to speak, and doesn’t have any terrific dialogue to work with until well past the two hour mark. DiCaprio might still be one of my top five actors for 2015 in a weak year, but his performance requires him more to pull off an endurance test. Hardy is a brazen choice for this part, he’s quite a believable foe, and yet because of his marble mouth pronunciation it’s hard to understand what he’s saying.
I find Inarritu’s attempts at humor to be not only absurd but facile, which I why I hated last year’s “Birdman” no matter how many awards it won. There’s no humor this time to offset the grim occurrences. “The Revenant” is a deadly serious movie, is shorter on intellectual content than I would have liked it to be, and yet still is an effective visceral experience. The realism comes at the expense of coherence, too, with a few tacky dialogues made between Pawnees and Whites. Most of the time, however, we’re hushed into quiet as we watch Glass go through this harrowing survival ordeal.
“The Revenant” is up for 12 Oscars. In addition to DiCaprio being favorite to win, it is also an odds-on favorite for the Best Picture and Best Director award. I’ll only feel elated for Emmanuel Lubezki winning the Cinematography Oscar.
156 Minutes. Rated R.
SUSPENSE-THRILLER / MOTHER NATURE / LATE NIGHT CHILLS