ByNicholas Staniforth, writer at
Spewing film-related flim-flam and poppycock when necessary. Follow me @nickstaniforth
Nicholas Staniforth

2015’s Final Filmic Breath

The Age of Ultron has come and gone. The Road Warrior has returned. And finally, the Force awoke just how we wanted it to. Surely this incredible year for film has already gone out with a blast, one made of lasers and pyrotechnics with nothing left to give?

On the contrary, because as the clock strikes midnight and we move into 2016, one more movie emerges. Dragging himself through frozen mud and snow, Leonardo DiCaprio stars in The Revenant, and the common consensus is that he’s given his all to this performance.

Directed by Birdman’s Oscar-winning Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant tells the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, whose ordeal of betrayal, murder and encounter with mother nature would make even Bear Grylls fearfully dispense that stuff he’s so fond of drinking.

DiCaprio plays the lead, a trapper and hunter who is left for dead by his hunting party—who also rob him of everything he holds dear—after fighting off a grizzly bear. Trouble is, Glass clings on to his last vestiges of life and endeavors to track down the traitors and exact his revenge. It sounds like the most primal western ever told, and there’s every chance that the unthinkable could finally happen when we hear those fateful words precede DiCaprio’s name in a couple months...

And The Oscar Goes To...

Iñárritu and DiCaprio on the set of ‘The Revenant’
Iñárritu and DiCaprio on the set of ‘The Revenant’

After nabbing Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film last year for Birdman, it’s no surprise that Iñárritu has impressed once again with The Revenant, which is already gaining a huge amount of praise. In fact, most of the early acclaim is aimed at DiCaprio’s performance. Already nominated for a Golden Globe as Glass, the role—which the man himself has deemed the toughest performance in his entire career—could finally be the one to win him the Oscar we’ve wanted him to receive for years. Okay, so the Academy might not have spoken just yet, but Twitter, as always, isn’t holding back on fighting his case…

Unfortunately, all the tweets on the internet aren’t enough to get DiCaprio the coveted golden statue. Over the past few years, the campaign to bring the leading man an overdue Academy Award is almost routine, but none of his previous efforts have seen such high demand as this one. The renowned environmentalist and vegetarian is seen battling with nature in every stunning frame that Iñárritu puts up on the screen with The Revenant (all with natural lighting no less).

DiCaprio's character is a man of few words, favoring direct action as he faces the elements and the sheer brutal beauty that surrounds him. Going as far to eat raw bison liver and using equine-like sleeping methods when all else fails, the ordeals that DiCaprio so clearly goes through may be enough to let him take the stage. Time Magazine describes his performance as giving the movie "a beating heart, offering it up, figuratively speaking, alive and bloody on a platter." But as much of a one-man mission this story may be, there are other other integral players in this game of life and death that are also getting attention, and they’re getting as much praise as the film's frontman.

The Mountain Men of The Revenant

Tom Hardy - 'The Revenant'
Tom Hardy - 'The Revenant'

With the leading man fighting for every last breath, there’s still the supporting stars that add some life to The Revenant, and they are getting their own well-deserved accolades. Already polishing off what has been an incredible year (Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend), Tom Hardy also competes for spotlight and best facial hair as the film's villain, John Fitzgerald.

Enduring the same grueling but rewarding effort of the production, Hardy has inspired the masses with a powerful take on a despicable character. Already a star on the rise, DiCaprio has described his former Inception workmate as "a beast" for following up George Miller's post-apocalyptic U-turn movie with another high-intensity film. Taking on the kill-or-be-killed mentality, Hardy himself expressed slight concerns for the demanding shoot schedules and physical work that were required for The Revenant. This is the same man who was seen being thrown to and from vehicles in the Namibian Desert. A beast? Maybe. But one who’s clearly hungry for more.

Joining these two cinematic titans out in the wild are also the likes of Domhnall Gleeson (recently seen as First Order stooge, General Nux in Star Wars - The Force Awakens) and Will Poulter (We’re The Millers and potential new Pennywise for the It remake). The latter has already been mentioned as a surprise stand-out in a film littered with an A+ calibre cast, and this could be the part that puts him firmly on a map he’s been circling for some time. It’s well-earned buzz like his that Iñárritu has always managed to pull out from his selected performers, both in this and last year's Oscar-winning entry. The difference here is just how treacherous the conditions were while filming and how determined Iñárritu was to take them on.

Let There Be Light

Iñárritu on the set of ‘The Revenant’
Iñárritu on the set of ‘The Revenant’

After Birdman had the clever and carefully constructed conceit of one continuous take, Iñárritu tested his capabilities once again with The Revenant. This time, he attempted something that very few films can sustain: natural light. Iñárritu worked with nature in every aspect to get his movie made, knowing all along that it would lead to an unparalleled final product. These men-turned-mountaineers battled with the spectre of hypothermia on a number of occasions, and DiCaprio specifically was forced to learn the lay of the land and make it all look believable—but "losing light" was no match for the creative forces of this magnitude.

Iñárritu and DiCaprio on the set of ‘The Revenant’
Iñárritu and DiCaprio on the set of ‘The Revenant’

Regardless of keeping watch of when the sun rose and set, some of the visuals in The Revenant are that which don’t come by very often. There’s no screen more suitable to see this visually stunning work than a cinema, and it really needs to be seen to be believed. Already being pegged as one of the most awe-inspiring films in recent years, it’s a testament to Iñárritu’s focused and daring vision for his projects. The Revenant shows just what this director is capable of, and the cast are there to match him. This is filmmaking at a deliriously dedicated level, where everyone involved suffered to complete the final product. If that isn’t worth the price of admission, I really don’t know what is. As Brian Tellerico on explains:

“You don't just watch The Revenant, you experience it. You walk out of it exhausted, impressed with the overall quality of the filmmaking and a little more grateful for the creature comforts of your life.”

By the sounds of things, we should just be grateful we’re finally getting a chance to see it finished.

Judge for yourself when The Revenant hits cinemas starting on January 8.


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