Like the title itself The Revenant is a film that has come back from the dead a fair few times. At one point Park Chan-wook was going to direct with Samuel L. Jackson in the lead, then John Hillcoat circled the project and looked to cast Christian Bale in the title role. So when it finally fell on Birdman director Alejandro Gonzálex Iñárritu there was always likely to be a sense of déjà vu. But, with Leonardo DiCaprio willing to brave the cold, The Revenant has finally made it to the big screen, a place it has to be seen to full appreciate.
Based on the true story of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) the film follows a group of fur trappers in the freezing cold wilderness of Louisana in the 1820s. When the group comes under attack by a vengeful tribe, leader Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) turns to Glass for advice. Insisting they leave their mode of transport the company, with Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) in attendance, trek deeper into the wilderness and enemy territory. Scouting ahead Glass is attacked and mauled by a bear. Trying to carry his wounded and dying body further proves too much so Henry asks Hawk, young trapper Bridger (Will Poulter) and grizzly hunter Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) to take care of Glass and, when the time comes, give him a proper burial. Fearing for his own life Fitzgerald takes matters into his own hands, leaves Glass for dead who sets off on a tale of bloody revenge.
There is a simple and easy way to sum up The Revenant; Gladiator plus Rambo directed by Terrence Malick. Rich in symbolism of man versus nature and seeped in imagery of Glass desperate to be reunited with his loved ones in the after life all amid cold and desolate wastelands is just part of the picture. Throw in whispered voiceovers and minimalist dialogue and if you were to watch it without knowing who directed it would be a good guess that this was a Malick film. And that is a very good thing indeed.
Because like any Terrence Malick film The Revenant is sumptuous to behold. Every frame drips with the world Iñárritu has created. Aided by some of the most breathtaking cinematography in the last year from Emmanuel Lubezki, who utilises only natural light throughout, everything frequently feels like it was shot at magic hour, the moment the sun dips just beyond the horizon catching every surface in such a way as to bewitch and beguile you.
But Iñárritu isn’t content to just mesmerize you with gorgeous images, he wants to traumatise you with the sheer harrowing survival exploits of Glass. The bear mauling, which is not, as some would have you believe, a rape, is visceral, punchy and flesh tearingly terrifying, it’s just one point of contact that will have you grimacing. As is his want Iñárritu often tracks round action in single shots to truly immerse you in the events as they unfold around us. The opening sequence of the tribes attack on the trappers is a particularly bloody moment.
There are moments when you feel like you have probably seen enough suffering on screen. The amount of times Glass seems to die and then be symbolically reborn feels a little repetitive but it’s hard to deny the stunning attention to detail and genuinely engaging story on display.
The cast went through much of these ordeals for real, if the press surrounding the film is to be believed, and as such you feel their pain and suffering. Poulter and Gleeson continue to demonstrate why they are two of Britain’s most valued young thespians. Hardy is now becoming a dab hand at this line of mumbling, bear-like powerhouse. He’s always a force of nature on screen and this is no exception, his Fitzgerald a hulking brute of a man hell-bent on his own survival.
Of course much of the accolades will fall on Oscar nearly man DiCaprio. For the most part his performance is near silent, Glass being a man of few words. But DiCaprio brings him to life in achingly powerful ways. Is it the best performance of DiCaprio’s career? Arguably not but that’s never stopped Oscar from awarding someone based on their previous efforts, just ask DiCaprio’s good friend Martin Scorsese.
A gripping and jaw-droppingly beautiful story of blood lust The Revenant is like being tackled by a bear, left for dead and then basking in the beauty of nature.