Weekly Review: The Revenant (2015)

Set in 1823, The Revenant follows Hugh Glass as he fights to survive and seek revenge after sustaining life threatening injuries from a grizzly bear attack.

This film was nominated for several Academy Awards, and it’s been on my list of films to see for quite some time. Wins for the film included an Academy Award for best cinematography, a win for Alejandro G. Iñárritu for best director, and most notably, a long awaited win for best actor for Leonardo DiCaprio. Needless to say, DiCaprio’s win alone has prompted a lot of interest for this film.

Personally, I feel that each of these wins is entirely justified. Let’s get the elephant out of the room here. Leonardo DiCaprio put 100%, nay 200%, into his role as Hugh Glass. The types of things that DiCaprio had to do for this role are ridiculous. He portrayed them all extremely well. It’s a rough watch, definitely not one of his more glamorous roles, but I will say it may be one of his best.

Moving on to Iñárritu for best director, this was a pretty incredible feat. Iñárritu won best director last year for Birdman, and this is a consecutive win. I think it’s safe to say that I will always give his films a chance in the future. It’s hard to describe, but his films seem to strike in me this sense of awe. Maybe it’s the risks he takes. I’m not sure. The Revenant looks like a huge undertaking, from the epic nature of it to the locations and elements that the crew had to endure. It was definitely a valiant effort.

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Last of all, the cinematography was fantastic. I definitely have to applaud Emmanuel Lubezki for his work in The Revenant. Most, if not all, of the shots in the film had me staring open mouthed at the screen, shaking my head in disbelief. It was such a breathtaking look at nature. From the more abstract shots to the more classic shots, I was in love. One of the opening shots is simply a shot of running water. It’s continuous and the motion is so smooth and beautiful. I felt I could have watched that water for the entire duration of the film. This feeling continued throughout, and I would definitely say the cinematography of The Revenant is my favorite aspect of it. It’s a beautiful looking film.

Now, to talk more about this film specifically, it’s mainly a tale of survival. One of the defining aspects of this film is an extremely brutal bear attack that leaves Glass (DiCaprio) with life threatening injuries. When his companions leave him for dead, he has to fight to survive and seek vengeance. Now normally I would leave the bear attack as a huge surprise for you, but I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s brutal. I feel like the faint of heart need to be warned. When you pair the content with the cinematography, it’s pretty terrifying.

Overall, the survival and revenge aspect of The Revenant isn’t all too new. The story sticks to pretty predictable ground, and the visuals are used in a somewhat ornamental fashion to cover up this fact. I had to talk about the film for a bit after seeing it to really separate the visuals from the story itself. With the exception of some standout moments, the story that goes along with The Revenant is pretty average.

I will point out that I really appreciated the use of Native actors to play Native characters. This really shouldn’t be something that has to be said in 2016, but with recent developments I feel it needs to be addressed. I was very happy not to see another Johnny Depp/Tonto type scenario here.

I will also take a moment here to point out that Tom Hardy is pretty amazing in this film as well. He has this type of presence to his acting. At first I wasn’t even sure it was him because he’s so versatile. Both DiCaprio and Hardy do fantastic jobs here.

The creators of the film are definitely trying to give a bit of an environmental message with the film, if not in the film itself, then in retrospect. The cast and crew are very vocal about the lengths they had to go to just to find snow for some of the scenes. This is attributed to climate change, and they even released a short documentary with the film that speaks about the climate, as well as Native history from the perspective of Native people.

In the end, I’m not sure if The Revenant will go down as one of the classics in years to come, but I do think it’s an experience that viewers would enjoy. I will say that it’s not for everyone. It’s a pretty long film, and it’s a slower pacing than what you’ll find in a typical blockbuster. I do highly recommend it though.

If you’re a fan of cinematography, this may definitely be a good watch for you as well because I think it’s a good look at beautiful digital cinema.

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