Revenant, The: Inarritu’s Brutally Violent, Visually Gorgeous Wilderness Tale, Starring DiCaprio in his Most Impressive, Oscar-Caliber Performance

the_revenant_poster_1Darkly haunting, brutally violent, and stunningly produced in its visual and aural design, The Revenant boasts an Oscar-caliber performance from Leonardo DiCaprio in his toughest role to date.

Decades ago, Hitchcock had coined the term of “pure cinema,” one that utterly depends on the unique properties of film as a distinctive medium, such as visual imagery, framing, editing, tempo and pacing, all utilized to maximum effect in The Revenant, a major highlight of 2015’s movie year.

 

Proving (as if there was need to prove) that he is one of the most brilliant and daring filmmakers working in Hollywood (and world cinema) today, Alejandro G. Inarritu has made a brutally bloody revenge film, which is gorgeous to behold.  The tale unfolds as a physical as well as an existential and spiritual journey, the kind of which has seldom been committed to the big screen with such ferocious and fearless vision.

If there is one film that needs to be seen on the wide screen in a legit movie house, it is The Revenant, in which technical bravura, visual splendor, and meticulous attention to detail define each department and are manifest in each and every shot.

the_revenant_poster_2Auteurist critics (such as myself), while singling out Inarritu’s achievement as director, need to take into an account the contribution of his collaborators, beginning with the Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki, whose dazzling imagery even surpass his work in Birdman, for which he won the Oscar Award last year.

Acting wise, the tale (which, frankly, is not too rich in ideas or themes), is carried entirely on the solid shoulders of three time Oscar-nominee DiCaprio, who here renders his most physical (and reportedly most difficult) performance, greatly enhanced by the extraordinarily large number of close-ups and mega close-up, generously and gracefully granted by Inarritu and Lubezki.  It is simply impossible to imagine The Revenant being made–and achieving such an amazing visceral and emotional power-without DiCaprio’s participation.  (DiCaprio’s full commitment to the part, specific work method, and acting style deserve discussion in a separate column).

Adapted by Inarritu and Mark L. Smith from Michael Punke’s 2002 fact-based novel (which I have not read), the tale is set over a period of one year (1823-24)  in the lands of the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming and Nebraska.  The nominal plot, such as it is, is rather simple–it’s the filmmaking process and its rigorous attention to minute detail that lend greater depth and complexity to the picture.

the_revenant_2_dicaprioInspired by true events, The Revenant is an epic story of survival on the American frontier.  While on an expedition into the uncharted wilderness, explorer Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is brutally mauled by a bear, then abandoned by members of his own hunting team. Alone and near death, Glass refuses to succumb.  Driven by sheer will and his love for his Native American wife and son, he undertakes a 200-mile odyssey through the vast and untamed West on the trail of the man who betrayed him: John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

 

When introduced, Hugh Glass works for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, guiding beaver trappers into hostile terrain, defined by scarce food and all kinds of dangers, both man-made (warriors of the Arikara tribe attack with arrows) and nature (there’s a scene with a huge grizzly bear that’s bound to be discussed due to its ferocity and darkly humorous closure).

Glass is traveling with his teenage son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a descendant of the Pawnee tribe on his mother’s side, to whom he is intimately attached and feels overly protective, especially after his the death of his wife (she is seen in a number of brief flashback) .

the_revenant_3Led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), one of the more decent guy, the group of trappers comprise diverse men, driven by different motivations. Assuming a major part in the story is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a cold-hearted, both immoral and amoral mercenary.

What begins as a relentless quest for revenge gradually becomes a heroic saga of sheer survival against all odds and a journey towards home that would result in gaining greater self-consciousness, awareness of Nature, and ultimately redemption.

Using his considerable imagination, visionary director Inarritu has made an Immersive movie–or rather experiential movie–by bringing unflinchingly to the surface elements of unparalleled beauty, bleak mystery, and numerous dangers of what it was like living in America circa 1823.

Part dazzling thriller, part wilderness journey that uses ideas of the classic Robinson Crusoe scenario, The Revenant digs deeply into the human psyche and most primal drives, first for sheer physical survival, then for revenge and justice, and finally for living a life based on dignity and redemption.

the_revenant_4In many ways, The Revenant is the opposite film of Inarritu’s previous achievement, Birdman, which swept most of the Oscars last year.  Whereas Birdman was interior (almost claustrophobic), heavily dialogue-based, intellectual in the questions that it raised (but had hard time answering), and character-driven, The Revenant is exterior, heavily reliant on silence and sounds (largely caused by Nature), and utterly dependent on its visual imagery to convey its ideas.

Inevitable comparisons will be made to the cinemas of Samuel Fuller, Sam Peckinpah, Terrence Malick (who has also relied on Lubetzki for some of his masterpieces), though Inarritu is not as primitive as Fuller, not as concerned with male bonding as Peckinpah, and decidedly not metaphysically meditative or lyrical as Malick.  Innaritu is a blunter filmmaker than those aforementioned, a director committed to pitiless intensity (here physical), grueling cruelty, and willing to push the cinematic envelope to impose his vision.  In the process, he tests and contests the limits of what’s society considers to be human or beastly conduct in the vast and cold wilderness.

the_revenant_5Inarritu presents the socio-physical-ecological contexts in such striking detail that help understand (if not justify) why most of the characters of The Revenant are driven to madness and insanity, here reflected in the last reel which concerns the anticipated mano-a-mano between Glass and his nemesis, after a long and tense build-up.

A much longer review will be published later