The Revenant is bloody, brutal - a cage fight where the audience is standing in the ring. That's an oversimplification, but it pummels the viewers into submission. Gorgeous cinematography and the man vs wild scenarios are outstanding. Beyond that, the movie's fascination comes from the powerful character arc shared between Leonardo DiCaprio's Hugh Glass and Tom Hardy's Will Fitzgerald. The Revenant isn't a movie about the harshness of nature, or even a man vs bear smackdown. It's a man vs man smackdown, a meditation on hatred and revenge. It may be direct, and maybe the narrative isn't as complete as it could be epics, but by and by, The Revenant is a masterpiece that will haunt your dreams.
The movie starts like Apocalypse Now, in a foreign jungle on a river. The protagonists are a crew of American traders. The place is Alaska in 1800's - Native Indians and wild animals rule the land, waiting to kill the locals. Our four main characters are: Captain Ashley (Domnhall Gleeson); youngling Bridger (Will Poulter); crude and coarse Will Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy); and the main character Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a silent, warm-hearted everyman. Glass has a native son Hawk , who travels with him despite racism. During the trek, Glass wanders off alone, and is brutally mauled by a bear. He's wounded so badly he can't walk, and carrying him becomes impossible, so the Captain orders Fitzgerald, Bridger and his son Hawk to stay behind and care for him until his death, after which he is to be buried humanely . But Glass doesn't die, and in a moment of silence Fitzgerald decides to betray him and strangle him so he can can claim the reward - when Shon sees this and interrupts him , he he then kills Taking Bridger with him, Fitzgerald leaves Glass in the grave to die. Powered by some superhuman force of rage, Glass somehow rises out of the grave, and begins long trek back to civilisation for revenge. The elements, natives, and some nasty animals n his way.
Leo DiCaprio is a great actor. He's fearless; courageous - Hugh Glass is probably his most intense performance yet. The character doesn't have much dialogue or background, but that's not the point. Cathartic and visceral is the game here - we see extreme levels of pain and raw emotion, stunning levels of humanity. It's a performance that doesn't make you think - it makes you feel. cinema and many people will moved as well as perhaps [artfully] given told a message about the nature of revenge. By now, most viewers will know the intense suffering he goes through - eating raw fish, sleeping in a bear carcass are just some. As Fitzgerald, Tom Hardy actually has more dialogue than Leo ... but unlike his co-star his Fitzgerald is one of the most despicable brutes of recent times. The character is a thug who is believes in the rule of man over nature, of self-interest over compassion, of chance over fate. He's a rough, totally self-serving and a great villain. Will Poulter, and Domnhall Gleeson give great performances too, although their parts are under-written compared to the leads.
Alejandro G. Inarritu is a star director. The direction in this entire film is amazing. The camera following character's points of view - swooping through trees and fields, then changing to a bird's eye view, then back again with fluid grace. It takes you straight into the action: feet away from a swinging ax, or tumbling over the edge of a 50 feet waterfall. It's nerve wrangling stuff that will leave some viewers physically ill. But that's the point. Especially in some of the more grizzly moments, you can hardly look at the screen without feeling ill, like in the gory fight scene with bear. As an action thriller, the Revenant is the most intense experience all year.
Narratively, the movie is a little weak at times. While DiCaprio's character spends a lot of time alone in the middle of the film - its actually a five act film with different stages. Inarittu seems to want the film to be a full blown epic. But tat time , he never fully commits to it - the supporting characters are thin - with Captain and Hawk coming off as somewhat two-dimensional. The worst are the native Indians, who despite having quite a lot of dialogue are shown as brute savages. Overall, there's a lot of different themes in The Revenant - the supposed holiness of white men vs the base savagery, the bonds between fathers and sons, what it means to be mixed race - but none of it ever sticks, apart from the key theme about revenge and the Creator. It's certainly no Kingdom of Heaven or Black Hawk Down - although some of the gestures in Innaritu's direction suggest he wanted the Revenant to stand alongside those pictures. Because of this, the Revenant loses steam briefly about 1 hour and 40 minutes, when the story broadens and DiCaprio interacts with a native tribal leader and re-connect with his former men. When - spoiler alert - he finally tracks down Hardy in the last 10 minutes though, its electric. The movie really snaps back into focus and the ending is bold and provoking. The script could definitely have used some fine tuning - either trimming down to focus purely on Glass, Hardy, and the snow; or on the other hand expanding to giving the characters some depth. The script for the Revenant is solid, but its by no means masterful, like the acting or directing.
Emmanuel Lubeski's photography is excellent. He brings out the beauty in shots, framing them to suggest wonder and danger in the hills and valleys. The score is also fantastic: there's no 'string themes', just drum sounds and deep dark low tones, mimicking the sound of an actual jungle. It's horror movie-esque and makes the Revenant atmosphere tense.
The Revenant is scary, beautiful, and emotional. Although film-makers have loved it, time will tell if it reaches to the highest levels of the pop culture pantheon, along with Dances with Wolves or Unforgiven. Just definitely don't eat any meat while watching.