Director – Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu
Screenplay – Mark Smith and Alejandro Gonzales I Iñárritu
Starring – Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy
Last year when I sat down to watch Birdman at the cinema, I did so entirely on a whim. I knew little to nothing bout Iñárritu and had largely avoided reading much about what the film entailed. I went in blind, and I was astounded. Here I saw a director at the peak of his powers, a potential all time-great in the making. After seeing The Revenant, this time with the hype machine firmly behind it, I can say I still stand by that massive statement. Despite the almost entirety of the hype being built behind Di Caprio and how this was finally the defining performance of his career, and the one that would finally bag him that elusive Academy Award that he had been (apparently, according to his fanbase) clamouring for, he is not even the best part of this incredible film.
In terms of narrative, the The Revenant is not particularly complex, but more so than you may have been led to believe. This is not simply a story of revenge, about a man left for dead by his so-called peers, and his son murdered before his eyes. Nor is it simply a tale of survival against all-odds, about the perseverance of a man of strength and determination, even when all hope would appear lost. Whilst is is true that these are indeed the central crux of the film’s narrative, and thus in terms what drives Glass’s central tale, this is not all that is going on. The film is marvelously complex, and the Native American factor adds an extra depth that demands a second viewing. Put simply, I’m not entirely sure I gathered everything on my one viewing, and that story can only be done true justice by multiple viewings.
What stands Iñárritu out in the current market is that both Birdman and The Revenant were high-end productions, both with largely inflated budgets, and yet both are essentially arthouse pieces, masquerading as large-scale cinema. That is how they would be perceived today, at least. At one point in time these style of intelligent yet expensive productions would be considered the norm, but those days are gone, and Iñárritu is a glorious throwback to forgotten era of grandscale film-making with, other than the fantastically convincing bear scene, not a drop of generated images in sight. Everything is filmed on location, and it gives the film an absolutely gorgeous natural beauty that is truly a sight to behold, and one cannot praise this without mentioning Iñárritu’s cinematographer Emmanuel Lebezki, the two time academy award winner. Words could never do justice to his work on The Revenant, so this reviewer refuses to make a fool of himself by trying. The closest word I can think of is perfect. It’s that fine, and if he doesn’t take a third golden statue home this year, I’d be extremely surprised. The fantastic opening attack by a gang of Native Americans, with its lack of cuts, continuous shots and constantly rotating angles was a spectacle of true majesty. Oh, and that bear scene? It’s as good and as brutal as everyone has said.
Now, finally, onto what most of you have been waiting for. Does Di Caprio match the hype? The simple answer, in my opinion, is yes he does, and then some. Stripped of his traditional trademarks; his looks and his charm, by a role that demands neither, he is allowed, in my opinion, to put in a true acting performance for the first time of his career. He says very little, and everything he does do is with his body, and his face, and it is a physical acting masterclass that all aspiring screen thespians should see. Di Caprio has matured beautifully over the last few years as an actor and this, his harrowing porayal of Hugh Glass, could finally be the culmination of all that development. Unfortunately, he is outshone by another performance of a very different nature, and that is Tom Hardy’s turn as the man who leaves him for dead, John Fitzgerald.
Like Di Caprio, Hardy transcends the line between actor and superstar. To hundreds of women he’s nothing more than wonderful eye candy, to thousands of cinephiles, he is one of the best pure character actors on screen today. Fortunately for us, Iñárritu is clever. He takes Hardy’s good looks and removes them, giving him a scarred bald head, horribly dirty skin, and a terrible beard. Thanks to this, the Tom Hardy we know dissapears and becomes his character entirely. It is a rare trait in today’s world of Adam Sandler’s , but Hardy has seemingly mastered it. For me, his finest two performances will always be as Ivan Locke in Locke (Knight, 2014) and as Charles Bronson in Bronson (Refn, 2009) but potentially this is better. I’m not saying it is, I’m saying it could be, but only time and repeat viewings will tell. It is, to my knowledge, his first Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, and I would wholeheartedly support his victory.
In the rise of Iñárritu we are watching potential history. We could be watching the rise of an all time great, mentioned one day alongside the likes of Kubrick, Hitchcock and Lynch. The Revenant is an unforgiving, cold, mericiless piece of artistic delight that manages to also be a work of visual beauty, and one of the finest works I have ever seen on the Silver Screen. It never outstays it’s welcome, and you won’t even notice that the two and a half hours have gone by. It’s that captivating. Some may argue that the muted colours, the deep violence and the lack of likeable characters leads to a cold and brutal movie, but, this was a cold and brutal time. True art is not there simply to warm you up, true art lives to move you, to unsettle you, to leave you uncomfortable and in thought. Make no mistake about it, this may be a large budget multiplex film, but this is art. Potentially, this is the most expensive Arthouse film of all time. In Iñárritu, Hardy, Di Caprio and Lebezki we are watching four of the finest talents in their respective fields, of their generation, come together to create a true masterpiece. For this, we should all be very grateful, and I implore you all to see this film. My only regret is that I couldn’t see it again before reviewing it, as I am unsure if I have done it any justice.
Final Score – 5
Written by Joshua Moulinie