4 Stars

Out of 4 Stars4

The Revenant (2015, USA, d. Alejandro G. Innaritu, 156 Minutes)

by Robert Joseph Butler

Brutal in depiction, visceral in experience, and visually arresting to endure, The Revenant is a visionary and astonishing cinematic piece of art. Highlighting a career defining and Oscar caliber performance from Leonardo DiCaprio in his most most challenging film role thus far.

This film is purely cinematic, and the visual imagery along wit the awe-inspiring set-pieces and sequences makes The Revenant one of the best films of the year. It is a film that is rich in craft, everything from visuals, framing, editing, and pacing.

Co-Written and Directed by the bold and brilliant Alejandro G. Innaritu (Birdman, Babel) has made a graphically and nauseous revenge saga which is ravishing from first frame to last. The film is a very physical and brooding experience, but it also has some existential and spiritual elements, along with some commentary about colonialism the way David Lean offered in his 1984 landmark film Passage to India, as well as Mel Gibson did in his 2006 under appreciated masterpiece Apocalypto. And like David Lean and Mel Gibson, Innaritu unfolds his epic masterpiece into a film of ferocious energy and uncompromising vision.

Like Quentin Tarantino’s 70mm western, The Revenant demands to be seen on the big screen so it can be appreciated for it’s visual artistry, uncanny skill, and sheer technical genius. It’s a film of visual grandeur and splendor, and every department on display here is certainly impressive. I would say The Hateful Eight and The Revenant were the most cinematic experiences I had at the theater in 2015. The grand vision and ambition of both projects are the type of films that demand to be viewed in the theater.

Inspired by historical events, The Revenant is a tale of survival, hope and revenge on the American frontier. While on a fur trapping expedition into the west, fur trapper and explorer Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is brutally attacked and mauled by a grizzly bear, then abandoned and buried alive by his own hunting team. Facing near death in cold conditions, he ends up surviving and healing from the attack. He goes on a cross-country journey through the uncharted west through brutal landscapes and harsh weather conditions to find the man who betrayed him, fellow hunter and explorer John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

What can be viewed and dismissed by a few critics as a routine revenge story instead is an exploration of man against nature, and a journey of gaining stronger awareness of the natural world, and it’s a story about redemption. Innaritu along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki transport you to 19th century America. The film digs deep into the desperate and primal drives of humans quest for psychical survival, then for justice and revenge, and to live life with redemption.

Innaritu is a brilliant autuer and visionary. The Revenant is polar opposite of his previous achievements like Birdman and Babel. Birdman which won the numerous Oscars last year, including Best Picture and Best Director itself, aesthetically Birdman was more confined and more limited in setting as the camera beautifully traveled around the backstage of a Broadway theater, where The Revenant is all exterior and it relies more imagery, silence and sounds of nature. The filmmaking and themes of the story are very much in the vein of Terrence Malick, Mel Gibson, and Werner Herzog. Though not as contemplative as Malick, or as idiosyncratic as Herzog, the film is more intense and grueling like a Mel Gibson epic. During my screening I couldn’t help but to cover myself up with my coat because I felt the cold brutality DiCaprio endured during shooting those. His performance here is absolutely visual and minimal in dialogue. It’s by far the most commanding and psychical performance I have watched in quite sometime. All of the front-runner status we are hearing in the Best Actor race is completely justified.

Inarritu delivers an impeccably crafted survivalist film that is also about a man driven to madness. The last reel of the film is left with great ambiguity and the final confrontation between Glass and his nemesis Fitzgerald will make you a cringe, after a long and well established build up. The Revenant is a complete tour-de force of visceral filmmaking at it’s most breathtaking.