Leonardo DiCaprio said that after his appearance in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street‘ he would be taking a break from acting in order to pursue his beliefs in environmental justice. Instead, he took only a small year off and decided to work with previous Academy Award Winning Director, Alejandro Iñárritu. Coming off his recent wins with his acclaimed ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)‘, he was bound to follow this film up with something on a much grander scale.
In 2015, on a limited release, viewers were treated to ‘The Revenant‘. In the first week of 2016, Iñárritu’s next work will be released to the masses for all to judge his revenge tale. On the surface, it is a revenge tale of a man seeking to right the wrongs that he has endured because of his Native American son and those that left him for dead.
The result? Leonardo DiCaprio churning out his next milestone in his career as a man that exhibits the meaning of life and love condensed in a two and a half hour film. Iñárritu captures this pain and strife in a way that none of us could see or ever experience until this film was released.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, revenant is synonymous with ‘one who returns after death or a long absence’. Without spoiling the plot, this is what the film is based upon, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is able to right the previously mentioned wrongs. Based loosely on true events of a man that was left for dead after being mauled by a grizzly bear and finding his way back to civilization, this film follows it in many ways, but also tells the story of revenge. The question remains all throughout, ‘how far will you go to avenge the ones you love?’
Iñárritu wastes no time in establishing vast, beautiful, and expanding shots in his filming of the snowy parts of Calgary and in some instances, the bordering U.S. State of Montana. Filming the movie on location helped the film in the long run in order to establish a sense of realism. DiCaprio did not sleep out in the wilderness and cold for days unless the role had called for it. One of the most enthralling parts of being an actor or actress is when they submit themselves completely for a role. Whether this is Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining‘, Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight‘, Christian Bale in ‘The Fighter‘, or Daniel Day Lewis in ‘Lincoln‘, it is always commendable when someone of talent gives it their all for a role.
One thing that needs to be noted before walking into this film is that the illusion of action is always looming, but that does not mean that it is always present. If not familiar with Leonardo DiCaprio films, it seems that he always chooses the roles that are character roles. Meaning he will not sacrifice a character arc in order to tell a more action packed story and that is something that puts him above the rest. Whatever the role calls for, he will not go out of his way to be the star in a film. He may have top billing, but that does not mean that he always steals the show. In this case with ‘The Revenant’, he does earn his top billing away from Tom Hardy and Dohmnall Gleeson. This is saying a lot as both Tom Hardy and Dohnmnall Gleeson should be in contention for Best Supporting Actor with each other for this film, as well Sylvestor Stallone for ‘Creed‘ and Harrison Ford for ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens‘, as he was able to jump back into the role of Han Solo thirty years later. Come the 88th Academy Awards, it will be interesting to see how Best Supporting Actor will shake out given all of the phenomenal performances this year.
Aside from dissecting the Academy Awards apart two months from now, there is much on display in this film. Between the stunning visual displays seen by Iñárritu, there are many long, extended takes that are reminiscent to Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan‘. Most notably, the opening scene when the group of hunters and explorers hoarding pelts of the animals they have hunted, are attacked by the Ree Native Americans.
While the film may focus directly on Hugh Glass’ revenge, it also greatly reflects the revenge of the Arikara Native Americans and their strife with fighting back for their lands from the ‘white man’ who stripped them of their lands and animals in order to justify ‘Manifest Destiny’. The film did a fantastic job showing how there were still French settlers trying to make their way in South Dakota and cohabiting with the Arikara following the Louisiana Purchase. The film earns extra points for making sure that the Arikara and French spoken between the Native Americans and French are correct instead of saying random words and putting subtitles on the screen like many movies have done. Iñárritu took care in making sure that the little details of his film were preserved in order to save the integrity of the book that this film is based off, as well as the true events that that book was written about.
After taking a film class called, ‘North American Indian on Film’, this film holds much more truth as you begin to realize that history is truly written by the victors. Time and time again, it is said that the Native Americans were hostile towards the settlers of North America. While they may have been hostile, it needs to be noted that it is justified as not only this film, but many, many, many more before 2015/2016 illustrate just how much damage was caused to peaceful cultures. This film helps illustrate the damage done as they follow the American settlers as they, in one of, if not the most disturbing scenes, rape one woman and pillage the Arikara lands.
While the film may seem slow at times, one of the two points that need to be recognized is that ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’ and that ‘revenge is in God’s hands, not mine’. Both of these play a major part as the plot unfolds over Iñárritu’s masterpiece for two and a half hours. The film is focuses more on the emotional struggle within in order to cope with loss as opposed to damaging all of those in the way. Iñárritu does focus on events loosely based on historical events with Hugh Glass, but he does not forget to tell history the way that it should be with the Arikara Native Americans in 1823 South Dakota.
Does Leonardo DiCaprio deserve an Academy Award nomination for this film? Yes. Does he deserve to win the award for this film? Absolutely. For the first half of the movie, he is able to exhibit pain and agony through only grunts, groans, cries, and mumbling. It draws the viewer in as we want nothing more for our hero to succeed in these instances. They have been stripped of everything as it is the classic hero arc. What unfolds after the first half hour after he loses everything is an emotional rollercoaster that all should experience at least once in their lives. The gruesome attack by the grizzly bear that incapacitates him is up there with much of the graphic shots that are seen in Passion of the Christ. While the bear attack may be filmed with CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), Iñárritu is able to create the most graphic sense of realism seen from an animal attack on film. If the scene was not graphic and over ten minutes long, it would not drill the point home for how much this man is struggling and suffering to cling onto the life that he so dearly holds.
Between the film being told based loosely on the life of Hugh Glass, the struggles of the Arikara Native Americans, and the beautiful filming and shots of Calgary, Canada in the winter time, there is no way that this film is not nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Adapted Screenplay (Mark L. Smith & Alejandro G. Iñárritu), based on Michael Punke’s novel The Revenant: A Novel for Revenge, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy / Dohmnall Gleeson). All of these nominations are recognized within the first half hour, and the next two hours just add to just how much this film deserves these recognitions.