IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 156 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1823 a group of hunters and trappers are hunting for pelts in the unsettled wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase under the command of Captain Andrew Henry. An ambish by the Arikara tribe leads to less than a third of the hunters managing to escape, salvaging as much as they can, but the party is slowed down when Hugh Glass, one of the experienced hunters, stumbles across a mother grizzly bear and her cubs. He is mauled and seriously wounded by the enraged grizzly protecting her cubs before killing it. The hunting party can only provide rudimentary medical care, he’s slowing them down, and it seems that Glass, who cannot speak or move, may have to be left behind….
I found myself in the [not unusual for me] position of being in the distinct minority when Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s much feted previous film Birdman or [The Unexpected Value Of Ignorance] seemed to me a highly irritating and empty picture. Luckily I had no such problem with The Revenant, which aside from some similarity in the camerawork [which could be put more down to the cinematographer], seems like the work of a different filmmaker. I wouldn’t say it’s any kind of masterpiece; for a start its simple story of survival and revenge didn’t really need to be two and a half hours long, despite the arty touches Iñárritu puts into his film like a series of dream scenes, and a very Terence Malick-like subtheme of mankind’s relationship to nature [in fact the shadow of Malick hangs over many of the moments of calm in the picture]. There probably isn’t much more depth to The Revenant than there was to the 1971 incarnation of the same true life story, Man In The Wilderness. Nonetheless, The Revenant is still a riveting, vivid watch, a rollicking outdoor adventure with perhaps the best performance so far from Leonardo DiCaprio [in a part Christian Bale almost played when John Hillcoat was going to make the film in 2010], though of course he probably isn’t entirely acting considering the difficult nature of the shoot. Given very few lines of dialogue, he makes the viewer feel his ordeal even though the guy he plays seems like he can survive anything, while Tom Hardy virtually disappears into his role as the main bad guy [and what’s with the complaints about him mumbling? – I had no trouble understanding him].
There’s a brilliant early battle scene, shot largely in long takes with Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera tracking past the combatants, then soon after that a truly intense encounter with a bear that seems like it’s never going to end [excellent CGI here too]. Plenty of highlights follow – my favourite being perhaps Glass going down some rapids – and the final confrontation is one of the best and most one-on-one brutal brawls I’ve seen on the big screen in some time, in a film that certainly doesn’t pull its punches in terms of blood and violence, though the grossest bit to some will be a more graphic variation on Han Solo’s way of keeping Luke Skywalker warm in The Empire Strikes Back. Lubezki’s cinematography of the landscapes is truly stunning, especially if you consider that only natural light was used except for one small moment, though the constant use of wide-angle lenses is sometimes a bit jarring elsewhere, with frequent shots where someone walks or reaches towards the camera and it looks like the actor moved across 15 feet of space in two steps, or their arm suddenly looks like it’s become twice as long. But then you also have bravura moments of sheer virtuosity, like the camera following and switching from different participants of a horseback chase without cutting. Raw, harsh and often painfully convincing, The Revenant, if at times seeming to be trying too hard to give the impression that there’s more to it than there actually is, is quite an experience in the cinema and really is one of those films that must be seen on the big screen.