Film Review: Revenant

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Revenant Plot Summary:

Set in the frontier, a group of men trudge home from a hunting job when their navigator (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked.  His injuries and handicapped state cause a rift between a disgruntled former military man (Tom Hardy) and the rest of the party, leading to bloodshed and revenge throughout the cold, unforgiving land.

The Revenant is an experience.  There aren’t many directors who could pull off what Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has achieved.  He had help from a great cast and marvelous director of photography, but this is the vision and scope of a gifted director who flat out knows film.  In the vein of guys like Darren Aronofsky or David Fincher, Inarritu knows how to reach you as an audience member.  There are sequences where you feel uncomfortable or unsettled, but no doubt enthralled.  It also doesn’t hurt to have the best actor working today at the helm.

THE REVENANT

DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a man who knows the land well, and is only concerned with protecting his son (Forrest Goodluck). One of the criticisms I could levy is the length, as the movie definitely feels slow. Ironically, this might be the film’s greatest strength. Hugh goes through a gauntlet of pain and suffering as he fights to stay alive. The reason DiCaprio needs to win an Oscar this year is because the performance truly transcends through the screen. You feel like you are on this journey with Hugh. You feel his devastating injuries. You feel it every time he hits the water, or shot at by Native Americans, or brutally attacked by animals. It’s emotionally draining to watch this guy suffer, but DiCaprio is captivating as hell. He doesn’t get a lot of dialogue, but when he speaks, it’s powerful. It’s not just the facial emotions. It’s the grunts. The eyes. The screams. DiCaprio shows us yet another range, going from the whacky Wolf of Wall Street to pure, unbridled intensity.  We’ve seen plenty of great performances this year, but DiCaprio is the one who leaves a deep impression.

DiCaprio isn’t the only one. It’s a shame Tom Hardy isn’t getting more awards buzz. His character is a real dick, but as the movie goes on, he upgrades to pure evil. To some extent you understand Fitzgerald’s decisions, but your disdain for this guy is fuming, and it’s all because of Hardy’s gruff, intimidating performance. Fresh off his role in Star Wars, Domhnall Gleeson is also welcome as the referee between these two guys, playing the Captain who just wants to do what is right For a movie that’s mostly a one man show, there’s a lot of solid performances throughout. The script does a great job of using characters wisely so you remember them.

THE REVENANT

While the performances are stellar, it’s Inarritu’s direction that enhances it.  It’s an experience because we feel the length of Hugh’s journey, and I mean that in a good way. The real hero may be Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer.  He’s already won the last two years (Gravity/Birdman), and his name will be inscribed on yet another Oscar.  The movie is downright gorgeous and demands a big screen viewing. I didn’t know it was possible to film nature this well, geez louise. Ryuichi Sakamoto and Carsten Nicolai’s score is also brilliant, perfectly fitting the mood.  There are even moments where Hugh struggles to get up and you almost hear a Rocky cue.

Where Inarritu really shines though is in certain individual sequences. The movie practically opens with a gut-wrenching battle, and we get the trademark Inarritu continuous shots. The scene of the movie though is the bear attack. This is one of the rare times where spoiling a major plot point in the trailer pays off. You know exactly when this scene is about to happen, and can already feel the tension. The attack itself is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on film. You pray it ends, but not because it’s poorly done, but because it’s executed almost too well.  This is not easy to watch, and almost has me terrified to walk in the woods again on the off chance this might happen to me. It will make you squirm in the theater.

The first half hour is very entertaining, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say this felt slow at times, but again, that’s the point. One of the first lines of the movie beautifully sums up what you’re going to see, and the last shot couldn’t have been more perfect. This is the type of film I strongly recommend seeing with an audience. It’s an experience that justifies the term “see it on the big screen.”

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.