By Joshua Erickson
VANCOUVER — The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to 2015 Academy Award-winning Birdman, is a true “epic” in every sense of the word. It is visually stunning, exquisitely crafted, features phenomenal performances, and the tension that slowly builds throughout the film culminates in an absolutely thrilling, heart-pounding climax. It is also brutal, unforgiving, emotionally draining and, sometimes, a hard-to-watch affair.
The Revenant is based on the events of real life frontiersman Hugh Glass. Set in the 1820s, Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets brutally mauled by a bear during a fur trapping expedition and is left for dead by fellow trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the man charged with his care. Still, these are simply the plot points that put the film in motion. The Revenant is so much more. It is a harrowing, grueling and—in a sense—mystical journey; a story of not only survival, willpower, and revenge, but love, loss, and the beautiful and brutal duality of nature.
I’ll go as far as to say that this may be the film where Leo finally wins his long-deserved Oscar. Whatever the case may be, no one will be able to say DiCaprio half-assed this role. The commitment shown to Glass’s character is visceral, gut-wrenching, and awe inspiring. The hardships Glass – and thus, DiCaprio – goes through are unbelievable, and if spending a day onset inside an actual horse carcass doesn’t get DiCaprio the award, I don’t know what will (though Mark Hamill got nothing for his tauntaun sleeping bag). With that being said, Tom Hardy’s cruel, cold villainous role is most certainly deserving of Academy attention as well. Hardy is barely recognizable as he transforms his voice and appearance in becoming a character you truly love to hate.
Although the trials and tribulations of Glass are hard to witness, the film is visually breathtaking. The cinematography is sweeping, grand, and so magnificent it sometimes threatens to undermine the heart of the central story. However, under the careful guidance of Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, that line is never crossed. Instead, the landscape almost becomes a dynamic character in its own right—beautiful and full of provisions one minute, harsh, vast, and desolate the next. The film is also punctuated with vivid dream sequences that are artful, stunning, and emotionally stirring. Occurring when Glass succumbs to his pain, these sequences act as mystical guides to Glass while simultaneously revealing necessary exposition to the viewers without being too heavy handed. To mirror the cinematography, the film’s score – with pieces by Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as The National’s Bryce Dessner – does a phenomenal job as it emphasizes both the intensity and the harsh beauty that the tone of the film strikes throughout.
With The Revenant, Iñárritu has crafted a beautiful, and moving story, one that is told with startlingly clear vision. It is just as much an intense and brutal story of survival and revenge as it is a beautiful, emotional, and moving story of loss and redemption. A truly visceral experience, The Revenant will leave a lasting impression. Just don’t watch it if you get nauseous easily.
The Revenant is now playing.BC, British Columbia, The Revenant