After winning the Oscar for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture, a filmmaker can either rest on the laurels of his/her win or use the success to make films closer to his/her vision. After winning last year for Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Alejandro G. Inarritu went for the later with the adaptation of Michael Punke’s novel The Revenant. And he put himself and his cast and crew through hell to achieve his vision. The film was moved around from Calgary to Burnaby to Argentina. Using all natural lighting and on location, the film had limited amounts of time to shoots. Many crew members were fired and quit throughout. This madness has the danger of creating a disastrous flop, as noted by the notorious Heaven’s Gate. Such madness could also result in a masterpiece that still flops and ruins the filmmaker’s life just as Playtime did to Jacques Tati. But with filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, the result could be well worth it, a category The Revenant can be placed in.
The Revenant is the fictionalized tale of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a real life fur trader with superhuman endurance ability. He guides a party of fur traders across the wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase. But during their track, Glass gets severely mauled by a mama grizzly bear. With a tribe of vengeful Native Americans on their tail, team Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) has some men stay with the dying Glass to bury him upon death. But the impatient volunteer John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) chooses to kill Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and bury Glass alive and trick fellow volunteer Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) into ditching Glass. With the flame of vengeance lit within, Glass drags himself out of grave to go after Fitzgerald. Despite festering wounds and the unforgiving wilderness, Glass drags his weak body across with relentless determination.
The film is worth watching just for the bear attack scene. Glass fights for his life as realistic looking CG-bear drags him around, bites into his spine and rips out chunks of flesh. And just when you think it’s done, the grizzly comes even more furious and more vicious before its corpse falls on Glass’ limp body. It’s an intense and gruesome scene near hard to watch in its realism. There is also plenty of astounding action scenes, especially raids by a native tribe searching for a kidnapped daughter. It’s especially astounding with these action scenes were shot with long takes.
Beyond this, most of the film is DiCaprio dragging his limp self across the forest. And yet, the film manages to make these scenes as intense as the raids. What definitely helps is Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance conveys a flame of wrath in his eyes. Plus, he makes you feel every ounce of pain he feels, even when he’s trying to drink some water. Add that with all the hell he had to go through to deliver this performance, and you can’t help but praise his performance. As I have said before, he is this year’s surefire winner for Best Actor.
Thanks to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the film hypnotizes you with its beauty. Along with Birdman, Innaritu seems to love having scenes shot in long takes. Not only does it make the action scenes look a lot more impressive, but the camera work hypnotizes the audience with the scenery. Inarritu insisted on only natural lighting for shoots, and the dark, dim shots have a haunting beauty within. Lubezki faced a lot of challenges, and the result could be his second Oscar in a row.
The film isn’t without its flaws. With a 140 minute mark, there are some moments that drag on. There are moments where the film will get too artsy with flashbacks and dream sequences. Overall, this film won’t be for everyone.
But for those who enjoyed the film have found a gritty, beautiful tale of survival and revenge. Once again, Inarritu provides a film to challenge conventional storytelling. And it looks like Inarritu is the frontrunner to win a second Best Picture in a row.