When watching The Revenant, you don’t feel like you’re just watching a film – it’s an experience. This tale of revenge, inspired by the life of Hugh Glass, a frontiersman in the South during the 1820s, is one of the most intense and gripping films to hit the big screen in a long time. But for me at least, it was not, like in so many films, the actors and their performances that stood out.
Despite everyone being pretty certain of the fact DiCaprio will be getting the Oscar this year for his performance in The Revenant, this was certainly not Leonardo Di Caprio’s most complex or even most interesting role. But it was most his most demanding role. And he seriously delivered: DiCaprio expresses himself completely physically in a way he never has before. Having hardly any dialogue the film requires this of its actors, but the lack of dialogue does unfortunately mean that the characters do feel very one-dimensional in places. Tom Hardy’s character, John Fitzgerald for example, was simply badly written. From the beginning he was unnecessarily repellent, attacking Glass without reason, being racist and aggressive to the point that it became obvious he was being branded as the bad guy, bound to end up in a fight to the death with Glass by the end of the film. Controversially, I don’t understand how Hardy’s performance as Fitzgerald has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor when Hardy not only executed what was a very easy role so poorly but also was almost (and not just according to me) completely incomprehensible for most the film.
I could fault the director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who wrote the screenplay together with Mark L. Smith for this, as even no dialogue is better in the place of bad dialogue and might have been more interesting conceptually than giving into certain Hollywood clichés. But Iñárritu’s directorial talent shines through in so many other ways that it would be unfair to fixate on the film’s negatives. After all, the fight to the death in the snow, though predictable plot-wise was incredible in terms of its choreography. The ambush by the Native Americans near the start of the film too, was a work of art.
And, I was disappointed by Hardy, I was very impressed with William Poulter, in the role of young, passionate Jim Bridger – having last seen him play in We’re the Millers, I didn’t expect his performance to be the most powerful after DiCaprio’s.
But what allows this film to blow anyone away is Emmanuel Lubezki’s unbelievable cinematography. This film was a visual minefield in which the camera was alive. Iñárritu and Lubezki both agreed they would only film during natural daylight; so every snapshot of the exquisite scenery of the film’s setting we’re offered is 100% natural. There was not a single angle not covered by the camera, it moved everywhere and constantly, and yet it was not dizzying or chaotic, but simply breath-taking.
If you want to spend half a film with your hand over your mouth as I did– shocked – moved –flinching – freezing – exhausted – terrified – out of breath and on the edge of your seat, this is the film for you. Its visceral and brutal aesthetic will grab you from the start and shake you till the end.