A Revenant is someone, or something, that returns to from the dead. We're not talking about zombies here, but in most forms, a revenant is a spirit. And if Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a spirit returned from the dead, then he is a spirit of vengeance in this amazingly gritty revenge/survival story.
I knew I was going into this film with the knowledge this would be both a revenge story and a man surviving the wilderness. So, I was prepared for it to be brutal and graphic. I just didn't expect the true intensity and savagery of the film. This is not a film for the faint of heart, because it is gloriously violent and realistically so. I know a few people I recommended this to that hated it because it was so violent. The bear attack alone is grizzly (pun slightly intended, but the scene where Glass has to close up an open wound on his neck, made me curl up in the theater seat. Anything dealing with a neck wound gets me every time (even in comedies when it's supposed to be funny). The the violence and brutality never waivers tones down and never cuts away. It's shown with realism to honor the true story and for us to make the journey with Hugh Glass on his path of survival, vengeance, and redemption. I feel the raw physical beat down not only makes it easier to sympathize with our hero, but we are put into his shoe and see the journey closely through his perspective (except when the movie cuts away to the supporting characters from time to time to give us some more scope and add a little complexity to the story). The fact that we stick so close to Glass does ultimately make the film a little longer then some might like. This is a very long movie and sometimes I felt it as Glass's journey started to get repetitive at times. But I think the length also helped heighten our experience with him. He is taking a long journey. It's set in the 1820's and he has no horse through most, almost all, of the movie. The way on foot through the snowy wilderness is not going to be just a day or so. If the movie starts to feel long, I just kept thinking, it's probably what I hero thinks as well on his gruelingly long walk.
Everyone is great in this film. Obviously, Leonardo DiCaprio carries the film on his shoulders and does absolutely phenomenal. But then again, I wonder just how much is acting since they did shoot in the wilderness. He has few lines in this film, but proves to be a very capable physical actor. The emotions he conveys on screen are incredibly telling of what his character is going through. He can be both a survivalist bad ass as well as very human and vulnerable, many times at the same time. He's wonderful and I believed every second he was on screen.
But the supporting actors are great as well. We have Domhnall Gleeson with probably my favorite performance I've seen him do out of the other films I've seen him in from 2015. Will Poulter is excellent as well. Tom Hardy is a great antagonist. He's just as much of a survivalist as our main hero and surprisingly logical. He makes an amazing match. He's also a villain that's easy to see where he's coming from. Yes, I hated what he does to Hugh Glass and his boy, but I can understand his reasoning. Villains that show depth and have actual reasons from their actions that make sense do happen to be some of the greatest villains. The one think that will turn most people off to Tom Hardy's performance is the accent. It's not an accent I can name, but it's one I've heard time and time again in pioneer-type stories and it sounds very authentic. He did a great job with it, but because of its thick authenticity, it also was hard to understand. Now, I was never completely lost when he talked. I could understand the key words in his sentences making me get the jist of what he was always saying, but I could not tell you word for word what he said through out the entire movie, I can only ever paraphrase what I thought he said. But he's a great character, nevertheless.
Shooting on location really makes a difference. The environment never felt fake, which makes it feel all the more authentic. The scenery was beautiful, haunting, and dangerous. It really helped the actors, I'd imagine, as well. The only time I believe CGI is in the film are the animals like the bear, but because that's the case, those animals look pretty damn real, especially the bear. I think some of that magic and authenticity of shooting on location has been lost a bit with movies that just would have shot some of this on a green screen. Just taking the high road and shooting on location should add some more credit to this film.
The cinematography is flawless. It is easily one of the most visually stunning films I've ever seen, but that's to the great acting, great story telling, and engaging authenticity, I'm not going to be one of those people that say it's "all flash and no substance". (Because there is a whole lot of substance, it just may be hidden with visual story telling like Mad Max: Fury Road. [No wonder there is plenty of haters out there for The Revenant, they're probably the same ones that hate Fury Road]). But the action sequences alone just left me gaping at the screen. The fluidity of the camera movements, the long one take shots, the complex layers of each battle, it's all a phenomenal thing to witness and something that demands respect and appreciation. Some of that is hinted in the first trailer, but it's even more breathtaking once the whole scope is revealed.
This is an absolute masterpiece of a film in so many ways and I'm glad it's nominated. It seems to have a good chance at winning with 12 nominations, but only time will tell. Do I think it's the best of 2015? No, but then again, I consider if 2016 because of the January 8th wide release date in the US. it will stay my # 1 for 2016 for a long time, I believe. I still like The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road better, but this film is just as epic.