I remember watching the initial teaser trailer for The Revenant however many months ago and immediately placing it among my most anticipated movies of 2015-16. The trailer itself only included Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and snow. It contained zero plot description or even dialogue. I remember saying “If this movie ends up being nothing but those two guys and snow, I’ll still love it.” I have to warn you, The Revenant tested that theory. The finished product took my words very literally, however it did ultimately deliver as a gritty and eerily beautiful story of survival. I’ll mention that there are no major spoilers here even though the entire plot of the movie is spelled out in its most recent trailer.
As we’ve come to expect, reigning directorial champ Alejandro Iñárritu prioritizes atmosphere and cinematography over a typical, on the nose narrative overburdened by exposition. The Revenant is nothing if not immersive. This movie will make you feel cold, hungry, and desperate. At times, it’ll also inflict pain. Cutting to the point, the bear scene certainly lives up to the hype. Considering the fact that, to my limited knowledge, Anchorman currently holds the standard for bear encounters, saying this is the best cinematic bear encounter I’ve seen probably doesn’t say much. So I’ll go further and say it’s probably the best cinematic bear encounter one could conceivably create. The Revenant’s violence as a whole is absolutely brutal, yet manages to avoid the territory of an unnecessary bloodbath. This makes the two or three particularly ferocious scenes very memorable. They’re also spaced out perfectly, snapping your attention span back into place within seconds after particularly impatient fans may grow tired of Leo’s literal crawl through the wilderness.
Pacing is essential when a movie eclipses the 150-minute benchmark, because unless you’ve made Wolf of Wall Street even a great movie of that duration is going to test audiences. But that’s exactly what The Revenant is and aims to be. It’s a test for both the protagonist and those watching him. In one sentence, The Revenant is a visceral survival story that is as much an experience as it is a movie. Some of this review makes the recently crowned Golden Globe winner sound like not such a great time, and it’s difficult to explain how great this movie is while also accurately describing how tough a watch it can be. But it’s extremely well made, and is definitely an important movie to see as we’ve now taken our first big step into award season.
Speaking of award season, the majority of casual conversation over this movie has settled around DiCaprio and the seemingly endless chase for his elusive Oscar. It ultimately helps the attention towards the movie as a whole, so I never see that as a distraction. On the heels of his third Globe, there is plenty of reason to believe this will finally be the year for Leo and the Academy to properly introduce themselves. For my money, pun intended, Wolf of Wall Street is still the most dynamic and incredible Leo performance on record. But that doesn’t mean coming up short in 2013 factors into this year’s chances at all. For lack of better phrasing, the competition just doesn’t seem to be as stiff as what we’ve seen in years past.
I had assumed Michael Fassbender would be this year’s roadblock between DiCaprio and Oscar glory. But the buzz surrounding Steve Jobs was surprisingly quiet. After some Golden Globe success elsewhere for the film, maybe Fassbender climbs into what now seems to be a one-man race. Or maybe Matt Damon proves to be more than just a winner in the comedy category after carrying arguably the most perfect movie of the year. Of course dark horses exist, but overall 2015-16 is shaping up to be a very winnable year for a universally respected lead actor who may be owed one at this point in his illustrious career. Who wouldn’t love to see this happen? Leave it to Leo to move Native American awareness forward half a century in thirty seconds. Being attached to Alejandro Iñárritu doesn’t hurt his chances either. I think that guy won an award for an omelet he made this morning.
It’s also a pretty wide open season for best picture, so maybe The Revenant can pick up some serious steam after more or less winning the Golden Globes. The movie is essentially a two-man project between an award winning director and actor, with the gaps filled in by some great supporting performances. Tom Hardy more or less met my expectations and provided a vicious, albeit it one-note antagonist used to give our lead such an immense struggle. I was actually just as impressed by Domhnall Gleeson, who gave us a realistic halfway between honorable and brutally principled. This is the same Domhnall Gleeson who was criminally not invited to the Golden Globes. Let’s recap this guy’s 2015. He led off with Ex Machina, one of the most innovative sci-fi thrillers of our time. Then he took his talents to Brooklyn, an early frontrunner for major awards before some of the later releases caught up. As I just said, he provided excellent support in The Revenant, the film that dominated the very ceremony in question. And let’s not forget his role in the biggest movie of all time, The Force Awakens, which ultimately was a footnote on his year. Bill Weasley has come a long way, just maybe not in the eyes of the Hollywood Foreign Press. But Katy Perry can sit front and center.
Returning to the topic, The Revenant earns every accolade it receives. Was it the most enjoyable movie of 2015? Not by any means. But award-winning movies rarely are, and at least this one is incredibly engaging. It’s the most immersive and intense movie you’ll find in theatres this winter. I don’t have any sort of ratings system developed yet, so I’ll keep it simple. Go see The Revenant if you want to have any idea what’s going on this season, or if you just want to experience a wildly impressive movie.