The movie that made Leo’s day! Or, that’s probably how many will remember this movie after Leonardo DiCaprio finally earned his Oscar for Best Actor. But behind the awards, how does the film itself fare? Now that it is available for home release, I can finally check out.
Set in the Americas during the 19th Century, a group of animal trappers face regular attacks from the native tribes of the land which they are passing through, and are left with a very difficult journey back to their main camp. Greed, pride, and uncertainty sweeps through the group as they set out on the dangerous journey, with their guide Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) facing the greatest struggle of them all.
Two distinct characteristics hit you from the very start of this movie. The first being the absolutely gorgeous cinematography and editing, which are both set to an immensely high quality of finish. The landscape is breath-taking, capturing that misty eyed view of the Frontier which has been portrayed in so many movies over the past century. The cinematographer did an amazing job of framing the viewpoints and especially the rivers.
The second characteristic which hits you hard is how that golden view gets smashed to smithereens by the brutality and danger the landscape held. The attack on the Trappers is a bloodbath with some horrific deaths that don’t hold back or show any sympathy. The movie never sides with the Tribes or those we are following – it merely holds a light upon the time and shows us how terrible the reality of the era was. These two aspects are polar opposites, but feel well woven into each other, so that the shifts in tone don’t feel jagged or destructive to the flow of the narrative. Both exist in the same space and time, which makes it almost more eerie to witness.
The tale itself is one of survival against the odds, and revenge no matter the cost, with all this tied to DiCaprio’s character. Even if you haven’t seen the movie you will know there is a bear attack in this. and holy shit is it brutal. I mean, cower behind your eyes, that kind of brutal. It was very weird to see this in a big budget film, where usually violence wouldn’t take up so much running time. But there is A LOT of violence in here with DiCaprio’s character basically being tortured and tormented. You are either going to like it or loath it, but the fact that the realism could make you react so realistically is a credit to the effects department and the acting.
Outside of the tale of survival and revenge, we get an arc which runs in parallel, and if I have to be honest, it was this which ended up being the weak aspect of the film. It has nothing to do with the acting – Tom Hardy and Will Poulter are really good and bring their A-game. But it all kind of got in the way of the primary story for me in a way that felt like it could have been reduced and not had a major impact. Three plots would have been enough for this, but the extra one kind of gets in the way.
The same can be said for the flashbacks and hallucinations, they didn’t yield the impact I was expecting them to. A simpler method of giving background could have been used that would have freed up space for more interesting material.
Leonardo was worthy of getting the award for his performance here, he gives his all for every moment of pain, suffering, and endurance which his character goes through. In fact, the whole cast can be praised for their excellent deliveries. They help to settle you right into the time period effortlessly while also maintaining believable accents and appearances. Tom Hardy plays a real sneaky bastard of a character, but one of those sneaky bastards that is perfect for these kinds of stories. I just wish his role had a little more depth to it instead of running along a rail.
But even with the complaints I had, you cannot, CANNOT ignore the incredible visuals which are on offer here, some which are the best we got to see in cinema last year. The long edits through the battles and fights put you uncomfortably in the centre of the fray, it is an artistic and technical marvel in how they managed to pull it off. The opening one which happens in the first big battle will have you fucking floored.
Add to all that the cast, lighting, and set designs, and you have an exceptionally good movie, certainly the perfect chassis upon which to earn some major awards. But like many Oscar winners, it rose so high, but not quite high enough to earn a spot in movie history. Cutting down on the long running time, and refining the arcs, would have worked wonders on this. But without them, I can hugely respect and appreciate “The Revenant”… but, not love it. Kind of a pity, but hey, you might adore this, and I do highly recommend it.
Thanks for reading!