There are times when a movie comes along, when many people think, "This is it. This is going to be special. This is going to be defining." I was thinking this exact same thing during the opening scenes while sitting in my theater for The Revenant.
In many ways, this film is unfortunately being pressured to an unfair degree for being Leonardo DiCaprio's Oscar vehicle. I don't think anyone should go into the film with the mindset of picking apart Leo's performance.; you won't have to because it's magnetic enough to do anything other than to take it in.
What I will say about DiCaprio's performance is that dialogue isn't a huge part of it. In The Revenant, DiCaprio is doing more of a Robert Redford in All is Lost rather than a Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans (1992). All of that is not to say that DiCaprio doesn't speak in The Revenant however. What the actor has done well in this film particularly, is give us a different side of himself. This isn't the same Leo intensity from Wolf of Wallstreet or Shutter Island. This is Leo giving an intense, yet (understandably) vulnerable performance where muck, bitter cold temperatures, and raw fish and bison liver are the norm.
We see in DiCaprio a complete committal to the character of Hugh Glass, the American legend the film is based on. Leo is rugged, focused, and world-weary in the character. You believe you are watching a man who has lost much and gained very little in a world as inhospitable as the early 19th century American frontier. His performance in the movie is really just something to be seen and not to be told about.
Opposite Leo is rising star, Tom Hardy, playing John Fitzgerald, the real-life trapping partner to Hugh Glass during their excursions. Hardy in this film is just as intense as Leo, bringing his performance primarily through dialogue, rather than the heavy amount of action Leo is involved in. However, Hardy more than holds his own, rifling through attacking Native Americans and giving the occasional beat-down or two to whoever disagrees with his cold, plotting and indifferent goals. Where DiCaprio burns with raw energy in his performance, Hardy is frigid and electric in his portrayal of Fitzgerald, a man who - having endured his own tragic past - really only cares for number 1 and what the world can do for him, not the other way around.
With these two powerhouses on screen together, the life they breath into each other's respective characters is palpable.
Speaking of life, this film is full of it; no matter how violent and unforgiving it is. The cinematography in The Revenant is absolutely gorgeous. In parts of the film you are wondering if you are seeing a BBC nature documentary or a tail of a man's sheer will to survive. There are a few scenes in the film where my eyebrows rose and my mouth dropped open (see this on a BIG screen). Emmanuel Lubezki returns for The Revenant having previously worked with director, Alejandro Iñárritu in 2014's cerebral dramedy, Birdman, starring Michael Keaton. You can tell a lot of love and time went into these shots between Lubezki and Iñárritu. For some, these self-gratifying shots may be a little overdrawn and enduring, but for others who whole-heartedly enjoy film down to its technical aspects, the cinematography is majestic and worth seeing alone.
Trees wavering in a building blizzard; a distant avalanche flowing off a towering precipice; an extreme wide bird's eye shot of the cruel, virgin American frontier in all it's glory and terror; these are some of the views on the big screen where you kind of wonder, "How in the hell did they achieve that?" And all lit by just that big yellow ball in the sky. For all it's worth, this is a film where it is very clear that the majority of it was produced on location. Thereby, this film is simply a spectacle to behold.
OK, now that all of that technical stuff is out of the way, the bear scene. We have to talk about the bear scene. I will spoil nothing, but I will say that in terms of people and animals on film going toe-to-toe with each other, the bear attack scene in The Revenant was the most intense and visceral thing I've seen yet. When you feel the actor, not the character on the screen is about to be gutted in front of you by a 1,400 lb. behemoth of fur, teeth and fangs, you know that is a scene which is very well done. The fact alone that I felt as if my heart would jump through my sternum tells me so.
What else can I say that can't thoroughly be expressed? For this reason, this particular review needs no more explanation in my mind. This movie, for me, was something special. A study in man's will; a panorama of beautiful, engrossing, North American wilderness; a violent tale of revenge. For all it is, The Revenant is something that must not be missed. In my mind, The Revenant goes down as a new American Classic in film.
What are your thoughts?
- Josh Doherty