The Revenant Review
The Revenant is the greatly anticipated new film from director Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu and has garnered Golden Globe, Bafta and Oscar nominations – and rightly so. Loosely based on the novel of the same name by Michael Punke, the film tells the story of frontiersmen Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and their team as they battle against an unforgiving environment, local wildlife, the elements and each other during a perilous fur trading expedition in C18th America.
When a hunting group’s mission to trade pelts with competing French parties and Native tribes goes awry, Glass is mauled by a bear and effectively left for dead by his own team. What follows is a tale of supreme effort to survive and overcome near insurmountable odds, as Glass battles to rejoin his team and get revenge on the man who abandoned him.
This film boasts an impressive cast, including Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter but it’s Hardy and DiCaprio who forcefully anchor it with their ferocious performances. Both are hell bent on surviving their harsh surroundings, but for very different reasons. For Fitzgerald, the financial gain was the driving force but for Glass, his sheer will to survive after being abandoned was borne out of the love of his family and a desire to avenge the loss of a family member.
With a running time of 156 minutes, there are times when the film’s narrative strays into ruminations; it’s clear to see that the likes of Herzog and Malick cast a long shadow over the “man vs nature” aspect of the film. Although the performances from DiCaprio and Hardy are no doubt the high points of this film, Inarritu ensures the suitably bleak backdrops still look superb as if in a permanent “magic hour”, thanks to the immeasurable talents of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, with the pair having previously worked their magic together on the Oscar winning 2014 film, Birdman. Rather than rely on green-screen or needless CG backdrops, thankfully the most is made from the realtime location shooting using Canada, Montana, Arizona and Tierra del Fuego, all doubling for the South Dakota wilderness. To a certain extent, the Academy prefers their nominees to really suffer for their art, and its fair to say with these barnstorming performances – coupled with some breathtaking scenery – the emotional impact is such that certainly feels like they do.
Whilst inspired by true events, its revealed early on that the story is only based in part on Punke’s book and as there’s little doubt that in the intervening years since the group’s endeavours, the tales surrounding Glass have long since been forged into frontier mythology. Did he really have a Native bride, and was he really left for dead by his own hunting party? Certain aspects of the film are rooted in historical fact, whilst others have been given a hefty dose of artistic licence. However, with cinematography this stunning and engaging central performances from the central cast, any blips in accuracy pale into insignificance un favour of a gripping survival narrative.
Despite its various historical inaccuracies, it’s fair to say that The Revenant is a visceral, visually arresting tale of epic proportions. It is entirely worthy of all of its nominations this awards season. Given that the film is produced in part by his production company Appian Way, this contributor hopes that DiCaprio finally nabs that Oscar that has unfortunately been eluding him throughout his career.
The Revenant was released in US cinemas on 8th January and on 15th January 2015 here in the UK.