The Revenant somehow pulls off the feat of being a gorgeous and beautiful disaster. A film that features some of the most striking and mind-blowing cinematography and visuals of any film in this century but also feels lifeless and often very boring at times. This is the long gestating project from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the director behind films like 21 Grams, Babel, and last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman, which Inarritu took home three Academy Awards for the film. The Revenant has been getting a lot of press lately due to the troubled production of the film, which began filming in the fall of 2014 and didn’t wrap shooting until late summer 2015. Possibly an attempt for Inarritu to mirror the troubled productions of Heaven’s Gate and Apocalypse Now, the film has been praised by many due to the performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, who won the Best Cinematography Oscar for Birdman and Gravity the year before.
DiCaprio plays Hugo Glass, a real life figure who was a frontiersman that was left for dead by his men after nearly dying from a bear attack. In this version, the man who betrays Glass is Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) a man who detests Glass and his son, who is part-Native American. After the attack, Fitzgerald kills Glass’ son and buries him alive, leaving him to freeze to death. Defying all odds, Glass is still alive, and is hellbent on finding Fitzgerald and getting revenge on the man who killed his son.
The film is based on a fictionalized account of Glass’ life, also titled The Revenant, which was written by Michael Punke. I’ll admit that while the tactics and methods that Inarritu were questionable to the safety of his cast and crew during production, I still looked forward to seeing this film due to his recent track record as a director and DiCaprio doing some method-style acting with this film. It kind of broke my heart to see that The Revenant may have been one of the bigger disappointments released in 2015, and a film that had so much potential but was wasted thanks to Inarritu’s strive toward becoming the next Coppola or Chimino.
The worst part about The Revenant is the length, which can often feeling grueling at times. Clocking in at 156 minutes (24 minutes shy of three hours), it feels as if Inarritu was given carte blanche with the content of his film, which is nice to know that a director of his stature can get what he wants, but is not good for the audience. The film has a pretty strong opening, with a violent and exciting raid by a Native American tribe kicking things off. The sequence in which DiCaprio gets mauled by a bear is one of the more brutal scenes that I’ve seen in a recent major release in quite some time. After that, its an hour of some really pretty looking vistas of British Columbia and the surrounding areas, but nothing really happens. I feel if the studio had intervened with Inarritu and forced him to cut the film down to two hours or under, The Revenant would’ve been a more satisfying and less grueling picture.
On to the performance by all of the actors. Tom Hardy was great as always in the role as the film’s main antagonist, and Domhnall Gleeson is terrific as the leader of this hunting party that Glass is in. One of the strongest and unexpected performances came from Will Poulter as a young man who is forced by Fitzgerald to leave Glass and his dead son as they go back to camp. It was a great performance by the young actor as a scared and conflicted man, and maybe one of the few performances in the film in which I felt some sympathy for the character. DiCaprio is good, but not exactly the finest performance of 2015 good in the lead role of Glass. While its nice to think that DiCaprio could finally be getting his due with getting an Oscar for his performance in this film, its the wrong performance for him to do so.
There’s really not a whole lot to DiCaprio’s performance other for him to crawl, grunt, yell, scream, mumble, stare, and that’s really about it. Not exactly awards material if you ask me, but what do I know? The problem with DiCaprio’s performance isn’t necessarily the actor, but its once again Inarritu. As I mentioned before, he seems so hellbent on making sure that people notice this movie because he actually made the biggest movie star in the world eat bison and horse on camera, and how he refused to shoot in studios and shot every scene with natural lighting instead of actual lights. As Devin Faraci from Birth.Movies.Death noted in a terrific piece he wrote about the film, the troubled production, DiCaprio eating bison, and everything else takes away from the real life story of what Glass had to go through, and how this production of his life is one of the biggest Hollywood-sized messes that’s been made in recent memory.
But, in a strange turn of events, I kind of recommend that you go see The Revenant in theaters for one reason and one reason only, which is for Lubezki’s cinematography in the film, which will no doubt score him his third consecutive Academy Award for Cinematography. It looks absolutely stunning on the big screen, and I’d love to see this film again just with the audio turned off, so I can admire the visual look of this mess. The Revenant is not a good movie, but its one that if you really want to go see I recommend you do so. And before you ask, no, this is not revenge for Innaritu’s Birdman beating out Boyhood at the Academy Awards last year.