Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson
Alejandro González Iñárritu already had an impressive career arc in 2014. His first three films, the so-called ‘Death Trilogy’, culminated with him being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for 2006’s Babel, becoming the first Mexican director to be nominated in the process. Three and a half years of work then resulted in 2010’s divisive but critically regarded Biutiful, earning him the praise of Werner Herzog who described the film as a “poem”. Then, after a four year gap in relative anonymity, this time last year Birdman emerged from almost nowhere to deliver a truly breathtaking cinematic experience – single-handedly reviving Michael Keaton’s career and catapulting Iñárritu to the toast of Hollywood, taking out Best Film, Director, Screenplay and Cinematography at the 2015 Oscars.
So after an uncharacteristically short turnaround of 12 months and a notoriously difficult production (Tom Hardy is still fielding questions about and publically denying punching Iñárritu in the face), not to mention a trailer that looked absolutely insane and gave no indication of what the plot of the film was, I felt wary. Was this a case of a director taking advantage of the studio money ($135 million, to be precise) and A-List talent on offer to pump out a period action vehicle?
My fears had no basis, and I’m sorry that I ever doubted. In many ways, this film feels like the spiritual successor to Herzog’s Aguirre, imbued with his “ferocious reality” and featuring the viciousness of nature in the starring role. It’s a relentless, exhausting story of revenge and survival, elevated beyond mere tropes by the expert cinematography and editing of Emmanuel Lubezki and Stephen Mirrione (both of whom worked on Birdman) respectively. No one is delivering cinematic visions like these three in tandem right now. These films must be seen in theatres to allow their visuals and sounds wash over you. One small complaint would be that the peaks that the film’s cinematography reach, using natural lighting and capturing the real minutia of nature, are undercut when contrasted to scenes featuring obviously artificial CGI that may have been rushed to get the film out in time for this year’s awards season.
Watching Leonardo DiCaprio claw and crawl his way through the dead of winter in the wilderness of 19th century America is both enthralling and difficult to stomach. This film simply would not work without his excellent performance of frontiersman Hugh Glass; the only other actor who could hold an audience’s attention and compel them not to look away in a film this bleak and masochistic is perhaps Christian Bale (who ironically was actually in negotiations for the part). Tom Hardy remains perhaps the most frustrating and charismatic force in cinema these days, vanishing into his character behind an unyielding intensity and an indecipherable dialect. It’s perhaps all the more impressive a performance when you’re captivated by the character, yet you can’t understand half their dialogue. I look forward to revisiting this film with subtitles. Another man having a huge 12 months is Domhnall Gleeson, who adds a much needed dose of humanity between these two duelling forces of nature.
I am being deliberately coy about specific details regarding plot and characters in this film. This is mainly due to the somewhat annoying puncturing of the experience by expectations created by certain rumours about certain scenes involving certain creatures doing certain things to certain actors. If I have one piece of advice, it would be to try and go into this with as little background as possible. It is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. The Revenant is one of the more brutal and challenging films you will have to try and endure. But the rewards are there for those willing to take the journey into the wild. Plus, if Leo doesn’t win an Oscar for this, he may go full Klaus Kinski.
Words by Wade McCagh