The Revenant has stunning cinematography and is one of this season’s best films, but the story is wanting and Leo’s performance feels like a desperate Oscar plea.
Overall, I liked The Revenant. It is an excellent revenge tale set in the uncaring, unsettled frontier of the American West and based loosely on the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass who in 1823 was mauled by a bear, left for dead, and crawled his way back to civilization to seek revenge.
The film’s greatest strength is its stunning cinematography, which one would expect from director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Visually, the film is so gorgeous that it is at first difficult to believe that the filmmaker used only natural lighting.
As with Iñárritu’s other films, from Amores Perros to Birdman, there are healthy doses of existentialism and magical realism at play. What the film most reminds me of are classic adventure tales like Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Rough. Rugged. Defying fate. With so much visual emphasis on capturing the natural world, nature itself acts as a primary character in the film, if not its chief antagonist.
Unfortunately, this is also its weakness. For as much as I was blown away by the visuals, I felt the film emphasized this over the story which is extremely compelling on its own. Had Iñárritu done a little fat-trimming, I would have found myself far more invested in the characters and their various conflicts. By the time something new happened to change the course of the tale, I had to work to rekindle my interest. The story is engaging, but the time it takes to get there is not.
That being said, The Revenant is easily one of the best films of this season. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as Glass, but Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald steals the show. An Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor is inevitable for him and it would be his first, but maybe it is inevitable for DiCaprio as well who’s been nominated three times (for The Aviator, Blood Diamond, and The Wolf of Wall Street) and lost three times.
Leo, who has recently called The Revenant one of “the toughest films I’ve ever done,” is impressive as usual, but I could not help but pick up a small sense of desperation. Look everybody! I’ll catch snowflakes with my tongue! I’ll eat a fish! I’ll eat raw buffalo! I’ll cut out the guts of a horse and sleep in it! Do you like that? Am I being dramatic enough!? I’ll do anything … anything to get that Oscar.
If the Academy does give its coveted Best Actor award to DiCaprio, it will be because of any guilt they feel for not having given it to him before; in the way Denzel Washington got it for Training Day but should have gotten it for Malcolm X.
The final shot of the film is Leo looking directly into the camera, tears in his eyes. Be moved, people. Be moved!
Oh, Leo. I’m sure you’ll get it. It’s been a long time coming.
The Revenant is in movie theaters now.