The Revenant (2015)

Holy shit! Now THAT…was a gawddamn movie! Wait…scratch that…’The Revenant’ is an EXPERIENCE, not JUST a movie. That’s a far more accurate description. I walked outta the flick about an hour ago…and I still feel numb. I feel…pummeled. And I say that as a good thing. This film COULD be the new definition of the word ‘Intense’. There is no denying that there is a savage intensity to this inspired-by-a-true story flick, and it really is some of the finest film-making I’ve perhaps ever seen, technically speaking. SO many times I found myself puzzled AND dazzled by what was happening onscreen and how many of the shots were achieved. I’m a pretty knowledgeable guy, when it comes to the Basics of film-making, but there’s shots here that still have me perplexed as to their construction. If nothing else, this movie WILL go down as one of those high-brow examples of progressive and truly beautiful ‘technical’ film-making.
Taking place in uncharted ‘frontier’ North America, circa 1823, we are introduced to a fur trapper / guide named ‘Hugh Glass’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-Native son ‘Hawk’ (Forrest Goodluck), two members of a large trapping party working out in the untamed wilderness. In short order, the camp is raided by a party of Arrikara Indians who are searching for the chief’s kidnapped daughter. In the brutal slaughter that ensues, ‘Glass’, ‘Hawk’ and several others, including Tom Hardy’s self-serving ‘Fitzgerald’ and Domhnall Gleesons as the company boss ‘Captain Andrew Henry’, barely escape with their lives and make a break for it. As they trek their way toward the nearest fort, ‘Glass’ is viciously set upon by a territorial and very pissed-off female Grizzly bear, who thrashes the fur trader to within an inch of his life. After what’s left of him is found, the survivors of the camp, with varying levels of concern, labour to drag ‘Glass’s slashed, bitten and beaten body along with them. When the terrain proves to be too unforgiving, it’s determined that someone remain with ‘Glass’ till his time is up. ‘Fitzgerald’ is one of the volunteers and in short order, tries to speed up Nature’s course. This results in ‘Hawk’ being murdered and ‘Glass’ left for dead. Only…he doesn’t die, as any normal human being would, in similar circumstances. He lives…barely, and struggles to pursue the man who killed his son and left him to perish in the cold.
As I mentioned earlier…this movie is intense. The opening sequence acutely reminded me of the first time I saw ‘Saving Private Ryan’, in the theatre in the ‘way back’ of 1998. As the stakes grew higher and the situation grew dire, I found my shoulders all hunched up and tense as I rushed along with these desperate men while surrounded by shouts, screams, and gunfire. ‘The Revenant’ grabs you with its striking imagery, then pulls you in to it’s cold, wet, violent world. More than once, I felt like I needed a hot shower after watching key scenes, and that is a honest testament to the quality and the care that went into crafting this film.
If there was ever any doubt, this flick just reinforces the notion that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy are two of the finest, most versatile and ballsy actors working today. Both men are fantastic here, with DiCaprio getting the lions share of the abuse and convincing agony, while Hardy added another note-worthy and ‘fleshed’ villain to his own filmography. 2015 was also a good year for newer Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, as he also provided effective support in both ‘Ex Machina’ and ‘Star Wars The Force Awakens’. All three roles he took on last year are unique and stand on their own. I expect we’re going to see more of him in the near future.
I have to come back to the cinematography. It truly is something to behold in this film. The fact the director Alejandro González Iñárritu chose to shoot using only natural lighting is awesome. You NEVER see that in a Big Budget Hollywood production…but here it is! Natural Light shooting’s really limiting and time / weather dependent, but Inarritu’s choices sure seem to have paid off because I completely bought what I was seeing as it all looked SO genuine. There are many sophisticated ‘long’ shots that turn up as well; shots that smoothly drift dream-like through lengthy and complicated sequences of action or dialogue. Shots in which a background actor would REALLY hope he/ she doesn’t fuck up their part and force a ‘Reset’. Working along side this were numerous gorgeously bleak ‘still’ shots of the mountainous wilderness the story maintains as a backdrop, along with a scattering of Terrence Malik-like close-ups of ‘nature’ happening (tight static shots of melting ice, wind in the trees, flowing water etc). It was a patiently-paced variety of well-constructed shots that REALLY sold the isolation and relentless natural conditions, while also acting as a visual metaphor for the harshness at the core of the story.
Speaking of ‘harshness’, it has to be put out there that this one is NOT for the squeamish. The violence, of which there’s a fair amount, is gritty, realistic and uncompromising. This is not Big Budget Jerry Bruckheimer-like escapist violence…this is violence you can feel, and it’s not always pleasant to behold. But…that’s the point. These characters exist in a harsh and ugly world were savage blood-letting, or the chance of it, is just an unfortunate fact of life. That being said…there is some gnarly shit in this flick!!
Going back to the ‘technical’ for a moment, I have to give serious props to the Sound Design and Music. The Sound Design was brilliant, often using nothing, but the faint ‘ticking’ of the snow in the trees, or the lapping of water, or the shrill wind all around, to set the scene. Things like far-off creaks and groans of the frozen forest around us as we watch Leo struggle to survive, went that extra little step to give the environment its own, hostile and eerie character. Off-setting this nicely was the disciplined use of very tonally-appropriate music. Many scenes use nothing but the sounds of Nature to underscore, but when the time was right, we got a moody and sinister vibe guiding us along with the composed material.
All in all, I’m damn grateful that I bit the bullet and opted to see this on the Big Screen. Not that it’ll be shit on Digital Release, but it will be missing…something. The awe-inspiring technical precision on display in this title absolutely begs for the Movie Theatre Treatment…and you owe it to yourself to see it there. Really. It’s a simple story, inspired by fact, that uses several terrific and dedicated actors to take us through it’s harrowing tale of survival-against-all-odds and bloody revenge. It pulls the viewer in with it’s unique look, top tier Make-up effects, tough-to-watch violence, jaw-dropping stunts and overall ability to leave you feeling like you need to bathe once the credits roll…and I mean that in the best possible way. ‘The Revenant’ is a damn good film aimed squarely at an intelligent adult audience, and at anyone out there with even the most fleeting interest in cutting-edge cinematography. Now I REALLY want to check out Inarritu’s previous film’2014’s ‘Birdman’! Look for THAT review soon!


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