Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu
Starring Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter
One of the most anticipated film releases of 2015, Alejandro G. Inarritu's beleaguered production The Revenant is not only a testament to human willpower, but also to the depth filmmakers will take for their art, whether that's always a good thing or not. And, as seemingly one of the last iterations of a Hollywood movie star, Leonardo DiCaprio's stark turn as the frontiersman Hugh Glass is one that audiences are hoping will finally net him a coveted Academy Award.
Set in the vast, 1820 wilderness of North America, The Revenant follows a fur-trading mission gone wrong. As the wild and crass frontiersmen battle local Native Americans, a power struggle between the humble and driven Glass and the ruthless and prideful John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) leads to an ultimate demise for Glass's son and the hero left for dead after a gruesome run in with a grizzly bear. Determination and revenge become the driving force that leads a wounded Glass on a journey against the elements to enact restitution for what Fitzgerald did to his son.
The most notable aspect of The Revenant, a somewhat modern take on the classic idea of a Hollywood western, is DiCaprio's dedicated performance. With a historically difficult production leading the way, DiCaprio goes all in, vividly fighting the frigid temperatures and frigid storyline. What could come off as mad anger, DiCaprio plays to a subtle quietness. With so little dialogue, the wild search for revenge has never seemed so controlled.
Second to DiCaprio's awards-worthy turn is the film package itself. Notably filmed using as much natural lighting as possible, director Inarritu delivers a crisp, beautiful arrangement of impressive cinematography (with the help of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki), enhanced by a perfectly daunting score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bryce Dessner, and Carsten Nicolai. The natural colors of the wilderness are so beautifully raw and pure. Mixed with the clever scene structures and flawless special effects, there's a special kind of encapsulation Inarritu has perfected that takes you beyond just your average movie-going experience.
The Revenant is brutal and gruesome, but in a tasteful way. Inarritu doesn't hold back during the famed bear attack scenes, eliciting plenty of white-knuckled thrills, but the focused intensity is more driven than gore for the sake of gore.
And, on top of DiCaprio's brilliant performance, the supporting cast offers their own pieces of film brilliance. Almost unrecognizable, Hardy is devilishly good as the asshole Fitzgerald. As the young Bridger, Will Poulter gives a conscience to even the most troubling of scenarios. There's a reason he's been touted as a strong up-and-comer.
While Inarritu's Birdman played as a groundbreaking piece of cinematic structure, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture along the way, I'd argue that The Revenant offers the more powerful statement, not just in intense content, but in overall storyline stability.
Brilliant for its technical achievements, and beautiful for its thematic elements, The Revenant is a love letter to the filmmaking process and the natural elements in which we find ourselves on a daily basis. This is not a movie experience to be missed.
Runtime: 156 minutes