The Revenant (2015)

(N. ONE WHO HAS RETURNED, AS IF FROM THE DEAD.)

In the 1820s, a frontiersman, Hugh Glass, sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.

Every time the Oscars comes around, one meme seems to come with it, the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio, no matter who he plays (usually, rich, morally ambiguous businessmen, regardless of the period that the movie is set in) never gets his due when it comes to the Awards. Sure, he’s been nominated before, but he’s never actually won an Award. I never really cared for DiCaprio myself but he’s slowly started to win me over after watching him perform in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street, Django Unchained and now most recently, The Revenant, where he’s really stepped into his own as a frontiersman Hugh Glass, who gets left for dead following a savage mauling of a bear attack, and is unable to stop the ones he loves from being killed. It’s a terrific movie that would be impossible to believe were it not based on a true story, as director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, 21 Grams) really excels in creating a raw, vivid portrayal of the western in a movie that puts him back in contention for the Oscar Nominations in the second year running.

The acting is pretty impressive. As well as Leonardo DiCaprio it would be impossible to overlook the incredible performance from Tom Hardy as the antagonist John Fitzgerald, and there are also good performances from the likes of Will Poulter as Bridger, an inexperienced new recruit to the gang of Frontiermen that Glass is part of. They are attacked by Native Indians whilst securing their cargo and are dramatically slaughtered in an opening bloodbath that really sets the tone for the rest of the movie, dark, unflinching, not afraid to hold back from the violence and gore. The survivors are reduced in number and forced into a battle for survival which only gets more complicated when their best tracker, Glass, gets mauled by a bear in one of the most visually breathtaking and brutal scenes of the year. You’ll know when it’s about to happen but it’s still an amazing visual success, as everything feels very real.

The film itself handles minorities well with Native Americans, and actually casts Native Americans in their roles as opposed to having white actor. A Native American character Hawk, Glass’s half-white, half Native American son, is handled well by actor Forrest Goodluck, and gets plenty to do in the first half of the film as someone who Glass will look out for and try to protect at any cost. Outside of Goodluck, Poulter, Hardy and DiCaprio there’s also Domnhall Gleeson, who’s recently been in the excellent Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Calvary, who really shines here as the leader of the Expedition in question who is forced to make some tough choices regarding Glass. With the exception of Fitzgerald nobody really in the Expedition is a bad guy, they’re just all out for their own survival and it’s interesting to see how the characters handle the bleak wilderness. As well intentioned as Bridger is, for example, he is out of his depth in regards to conflicts with any other character, and you find yourself wondering whether anybody will make it to the end come the end of the film. It’s brutal and unforgiving, and like all the best survival movies, focuses on a small cast of actors (This is where Everest failed in being gripping, there were just too many characters to care about), making the film a more personal, intense experience, especially when DiCaprio is in the driving seat, as he is in potential Oscar-winning form as Glass. If he doesn’t get the award this year, then he probably never will.

Even though The Revenant may tackle a fairly simple revenge story, its direction and acting are what really sells the movie. Hardy and DiCaprio are incredible but Iñárritu doesn’t hold back, with several long cuts and a similar haunting theme that Birdman employed last year, as well as a use of several bizarre imagery through dreams that make for an almost surreal experience, even if they aren’t really connected to the storyline. The cinematography is absolutely stunning with some amazing visual work, and although at three hours long it may be considered an endurance test, it is still an endurance test worth experiencing at least once because The Revenant is just so damn good, and for the most part, you won’t feel bored or lost. It’s easy to follow, gripping and a cinematic tour de-force, that comes highly recommended.

VERDICT: 9/10

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