A frontiersman named Hugh Glass on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s is on a quest for survival after being brutally mauled by a bear.
Coming only a year after the Academy Award winning ‘Birdman’, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s ‘The Revenant’ is an epic, uncompromising tale of one man’s quest for survival in one of the harshest environments imaginable. This is one of the most immersive cinematic experiences I’ve witnessed for some time and it demands to be seen on the big screen to revel in the surroundings. For a film of such despair and brutality, it is also one of the most beautiful depictions of the natural landscape and the wonder of nature, with Emmanuel Lubezki’s phenomenal cinematography shimmering with beauty. The contrast is mesmerising.
Loosely based on the story of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper in the early 1800s who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by the men he was with, the film follows Glass as he attempts to survive in the wilderness, pitting him against the elements, native Indians and many others who wish him harm. Hugh Glass is played by Leonardo Di Caprio in a role that is likely to garner him a first Academy Award for Best Actor, and he is a powerful focal point for the film. Di Caprio is excellent in a mostly wordless performance, conveying his struggles yet driven by the desire to gain revenge on the men who left him to die. Di Caprio has arguably been the finest actor of recent times and he’s delivered even better performances than this, but the Academy do tend to favour ‘showier’ parts for their awards and it will not be a surprise if this role wins him the award. As the main antagonist, Tom Hardy is just as good as John Fitzgerald, a vicious frontiersman, delivering a typically intense performance (alongside the return of his mumbling voice from his turn as Bane!). Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson are the other two primary characters and they both disappear into their characters in the same way as Di Caprio and Hardy do. Jim Bridger’s (Poulter) fear comes through every time he’s on screen as a kid who really shouldn’t be in this harsh environment, and Gleeson, coming off a stunning 2015, has less to do but is equally strong as Andrew Henry, the captain of the hunting party.
Iñárritu and his crew travelled way out into the wilderness to some of the sparsest locations in the Americas and this comes through in the end product. From a technical perspective, ‘The Revenant’ is impeccably crafted, from the lushness of Lubezki’s cinematography to the suspenseful score that lulls and lifts at crucial moments in the narrative. Two key sequences are likely to be cited as evidence of the film’s stunning technical achievements: the continuous tracking shot as Hugh Glass and the hunting party are attacked by a band of Indians, and the bear attack. The bear attack is one of these sequences that wouldn’t have been possible to do justice to several years ago, but as technology has improved its allowed filmmakers to create scenes as memorable as this one. I was surprised at how sustained the attack is and how real everything looked as the direction and effects make you wince and grimace as every blow is inflicted on Glass. It’s brutal, violent and gory and it doesn’t shy away in any respect. From this point onwards the film moves between Henry taking the bulk of the men back to camp, Fitzgerald and Bridger travelling and Glass’s ordeal himself. It’s Glass we spend the most time with and whilst there are long stretches with little action and no dialogue, Di Caprio keeps us gripped and there’s always the feeling of danger around every corner.
‘The Revenant’ is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking, outstandingly crafted and filmed and shot with a raw intensity. Whilst it does lag in parts and could have done with shaving a couple of minor subplots from the runtime, this is bold and exciting filmmaking and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Brendan Fletcher, Kristoffer Joner, Brad Carter and Lukas Haas