The Revenant (2015) Movie Review

An Unforgettable Experience

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“The Revenant” is one of those films you just knew getting closer to its release that you had something special on your hands.  Helmed by defending Academy Award Winner Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu the movie looks to break every rule in the book (like Iñárritu did “Birdman”).  “The Revenant” is a modern day fable of famed frontiersman Hugh Glass.  Whose story of redemption, vengeance, and survival is utterly absorbing.  Not only is this a strong follow up to Iñárritu’s previous film, this is without a doubt, an achievement in filmmaking.

“The Revenant” could have gone easily wrong in so many places.  This is a movie that takes it’s time with its storytelling.  Under lesser hands this movie could have turned into a mostly boring effort.  The screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu keeps the story focused on the characters and their motivations.  Telling the story in a subtle way, the story develops with more visual cues than just simply through the dialogue.  After a careful and calculated buildup we become fully invested in the characters story, locking us in to what is to come.  Even with the movie’s full cast of the characters the focus is right where it needs to be, with Hugh Glass.

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Inspired by the real life story (with certain liberties taken) Hugh Glass was on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s when he is attack viciously by a bear.  His expedition team believing him to about die (and only becoming a burden on their travels) leaves him behind.  The man who was suppose to look over him before his death, John Fitzgerald, tries to put Glass out of his misery. But, in a twist of fate kills Glass’s half Native American son and then buries Glass alive.  Now hundreds of miles away from the nearest shelter, badly injured and in dangerous Native American territory, Glass has to find his will to live, and quench his thirst for vengeance; all while coming to terms with his past.

Glass’s journey is exemplary.  Equally as exemplary is Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance.  Anytime he steps in front of the cameras you know we are in for greatness.  With such a long career of great performances it’s hard to pick which one is his best one.  However there is an argument to be made that this is his best performance of his career.  Not only is this his most physically enduring role yet but it is by far one of his toughest and trickiest roles yet.  Most of his dialogue is nonexistent.  For the longest time he has to act and show his emotions through his facial expressions.  With such a lack of dialogue it’s hard to not look bored and very easy for the audience to lose touch with his feelings as a character. DiCaprio however never falls prey to that.  His performance never ceased to amaze me.  It is easily my  pick for the Best Actor Oscar this year (hopefully it’ll finally be his year).

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Another actor that is always good with acting with his just his facial expressions is Tom Hardy.  Hardy reteams with his “Inception” costar in a performance that is morally grey, but at the same time physically threatening.  Hardy plays well off DiCaprio while never becoming overshadowed; rising to DiCaprio’s game.  Domhnall Gleeson  also shines in perhaps this movie’s most overlooked performance.  Even Will Poulter (an actor I didn’t think so much of beforehand) shows he can play alongside these veteran actors in a surprising performance that captures such pathos.

Pushing these actors to their limits is the aforementioned director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu.  Iñárritu transports us to the world of the Fur Trading business; where man hasn’t even scratch the surface of those treacherous lands this men had to inhabit.  The era feels authentic and large.  Many movies have a problem with showing off scale, and making audience feel the characters are far from each other or safety to out of reach.  Iñárritu creates a world that is both inviting and beautiful.  But, like a Siren’s song it’s beauty is a facade and the danger is truly tangible.

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Much has been made of the way Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has chosen to shoot the film in all natural light. Waiting hours upon hours, days upon days for the right lighting from the sun to achieve a shot in the matter that they envisioned in.   The results are simply stunning and jaw dropping.  If you want to see beautiful scenes of landscapes then this movie is worth the price of admission on that merit alone.  However the pair together craft a film that is much more than just capturing the beauty of the wilderness.  The natural lighting draws the audience deeper into the movie. This by giving us a different type of experience than anything else I have felt in a while.

In a normal well lit studio film, action and scenes of violence become numbing after a while.  This is simply because your brain has a protective layering that is able to tell yourself that this is simply a movie you are watching.  This in effect keeps you from getting drawn into the picture further then you already are.  The natural lighting does away with the ultra produced glossy looking films that we’re to seeing and gives us something much more real.  The violence is brutal and now with the natural light everything looks far more realistic than in any other film I’ve seen this year (or even in the past few years for that matter).

These scenes of brutal violence are unforgettable.  The movie opens with an unexpected battle sequence that is unlike any you’ve seen put to screen.  It’s horrific but all at the same time thrilling.  This movie has a number of sequences like that.  “The Revenant” also has one of, if not, the most terrifying bear attack sequence ever put celluloid or digital prints.  The blending of computer and practical effects is unshakeable; this sequence will make you want to look away from the screen, and grimace in pain.

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Iñárritu’s style really shines through to create a unique film going experience.  One I don’t think we will see again for a number of years to come.  Even with its nearly 3 hour running time and long sections of seemingly never ending trekking across snowy terrain this movie is always engaging.  Film is suppose to give you an emotional experience which is exactly what “The Revenant” gave me ( that emotional experience is only helped by it’s amazing score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto).  I don’t believe I will soon forget”The Revenant”.

Final Score

10/10

 

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