Continuing my reviews for the Oscar-nominated pictures, we find ourselves at 'The Revenant', a strikingly bold and unforgiving film by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, best known for his masterpiece 'Birdman' which swooped the Best Picture Academy Award last year. Iñárritu continues to push such boundaries in a film that is relentless with it's story of one man's thirst for revenge. Iñárritu plunges right into the action from the off and refuses to let go of the viewer; this is all directed in an extremely immersive way to heighten the senses and leave you flinching but somehow lacks something in terms of a cohesive story.
As told in Michael Punke's source novel, 'The Revenant' recounts the exploits of a group of upright American men in the early 1800s, presumably in a trading situation but it is never really explained, bar the fact the team is lead by the honourable Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and there is a shift in the group, lead notably by the cruel John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). However the focal point of the film, and the reason why we all bought a ticket, is Leonardo DiCaprio's Hugh Glass, who is abandoned by his group after he is savagely mauled by a bear and left for dead. What then Iñárritu achieves is simply one man's struggle to claw his way out of the wilderness and have his revenge. Frustratingly, there is little to no context on Glass's life before the film, save for a monumental flashback or dream, so the narrative unquestionably suffers, but this really is of no importance as Iñárritu allows DiCaprio to fully invest himself into a role that is more punishing than it is rewarding.
Frankly, this is a film that favours the visual. From the staggeringly beautiful opening of Iñárritu's long takes weaving between trees and guns firing, gliding seamlessly with moments of astonishing beauty that showcases the exposed, and at times dangerous, aspect of nature, particularly as Arikara warriors descend onto the group. There is chaos unfolding everywhere and the viewer is thrust right into the action thanks to the swift, gliding direction of the camera, it is as relentless and as uncompromising as Hugh Glass itself.
And so begins what can undoubtedly be called DiCaprio's finest performance. As terrific as the supporting cast are, though Hardy's mumblings were a little inaudible at times, this is Leo's time to shine. He spends the majority of the film silent, walking, or crawling yet he captivates the screen with every second he has, even the more eccentric moments of Glass breathing heavily that are scattered amongst the score give the emotional edge the film needs. The raw power of his gruelling endeavour isn't for the faint hearted, but you sympathise with him all the more so because of the heavily stacked odds against him. Iñárritu constantly uses symbolic imagery around Glass that suggests rebirth, such as him rising from the grave that was dug for him, morning sunlight that melts away the snow or even a more grotesque image of Glass using the corpse of a dead horse to sleep in which is shot with a close up opening up the stomach as he awakens. The imagery around him supports this idea, primal beautiful landscapes that intimidate in the snow but bask in glory in the sun, all supporting the idea of a man being reborn through harsh and unforgiving circumstances.
Brutal, unforgiving and tremendously captivating, Iñárritu delivers a bombastic tour-de-force with an Oscar worthy performance from DiCaprio that sometimes suffers from a thinly woven narrative and unnecessary moments, but still remains gruellingly exquisite.