I hadn’t originally intended to see The Revenant; after what I’d read, I wasn’t sure it was my kind of film. But after seeing The Hateful Eight, I just felt in the mood to go to the cinema again last weekend – and I’m glad I did.
Out in the nineteenth-century American wilderness, a party of fur trappers are attacked by Indians and forced to flee, beginning the arduous trek back to their fort. On the way, the main guide Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is attacked by a bear and horrifically injured, clinging to life but unable to walk. The other men try to handle the burden as best they can – but eventually, thanks to the selfish actions of fellow trapper Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass finds himself left alone. Still in poor condition, he now has to struggle against the elements, Indians and hostile French soldiers, to get back to his fort and seek justice against Fitzgerald.
This is another long film at just over two-and-a-half hours, and the story itself moves at a slow pace. I did feel a bit restless at times, but not often: there’s usually something interesting happening as Glass tries to stay alive and his companions continue on their journey. It’s good that the film doesn’t focus entirely on Glass, instead cutting back and forth between him and other characters, though there is a subplot involving an Indian trying to find his captured daughter which takes a long time to actually get anywhere. The wilderness environment, which plays such a significant role in the story, is presented spectacularly – the camera provides both huge landscape shots and intimate close-ups, and there’s so much movement in many of the shots that they can be dizzying. One shot during the attack at the beginning almost looked 3D without actually being so.
The Revenant is more about depicting events than any complex character study: all the characters are fairly basic. Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald, for example, is just a nasty piece of work through and through, right from the beginning; and he’s quite aggravating until he settles properly into his role as the film’s villain. With the characters facing extreme situations, some extreme acting is required, and the cinematography with its long, constantly moving shots must have been challenging for the actors on top of everything else. And everybody gives it their all, though none more so than Leonardo DiCaprio.
DiCaprio’s role here is very physical: for much of the film, his character has little to no dialogue, either because he’s not physically capable of speaking or because he has nobody to talk to anyway. DiCaprio makes every breath and every movement count, showing you how much the injured Glass is struggling: the scene with the bear attack is particularly good in this regard. So will DiCaprio finally get his long awaited Oscar for Best Actor? He certainly deserves it for all the effort he clearly put into this role, but I fear he may still lose out to Eddie Redmayne – I haven’t seen The Danish Girl, but Redmayne’s role seems tailor-made for Oscar victory.
While The Revenant is a very harsh film and a bit of a slog, it’s an absorbing story about the will to survive, has brilliant acting, and is a unique experience to watch. Rating: 4.5/5.