The Revenant review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Birdman director Alejandro G. Iñárritu takes his closely following camera out of the modern theater and into the cold wilderness of 1800’s Montana. But Iñárritu doesn’t dress up the woodland western setting to appear clean and wondrous. He wants us to feel the cold and grit of the winter setting. This is a tale of brutal survival and it’s up to Iñárritu to make us believe that this is a land that you may not survive through. His depiction of this world ends up being so captivating I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for all its savagery in battles of man and nature.
There’s a certain beauty to how the brutality unfolds on screen. Fur trappers cross the Montana wilderness for hunting when they find themselves hunted by Native Americans. The camera remains very close to its subjects as the arrows flies, but leaves enough room in the background to see plenty of carnage unfold. It is shot with a sense of depth, but also with a sense of personality and emotion with all its primary focus. Fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself betrayed by his fellow hunter John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) after being mauled by a bear. Glass is bound to the ground as he helplessly watches other men murdered in Fitzgerald’s cover-up scheme. The camera is uncomfortably close to Glass as he grits his teeth and struggles to break free. You can see his cold skin covered in snow, dirt and blood. You can just about feel it with how close we come to his perspective.
After being left for dead, the majority of the film finds Glass struggling to survive in the winter climate. He crawls on his belly with deep wounds. He struggles to make a fire with his fingers bloody and his nerves frozen. He swims deep within the freezing river to avoid the Native Americans firing arrows from above. He’ll devour raw buffalo meat for food and stuff his body within a horse corpse to survive the night. His journey back to the fort of civilized man is one hell of a struggle and it constantly feels raw in its brutal depiction. In that regard, Leonardo DiCaprio really throws himself into this role like no other actor. His chilling pain feels quite real for the setting and the actions he displays on screen. According to DiCaprio, it was by far one of his most challenging roles and it’s hard to argue otherwise with how he performs.
But Glass’ journey also has some character beyond just his revenge on Fitzgerald. Having fathered a Native American child, Glass a certain admiration and spiritual connection to the Native Americans of the land that threaten his survival. When he happens upon a Native American feasting on a buffalo, he pleads for help. The Native American holds holds a silent truce as the two feast on the bloody innards. As his adventure progresses, Glass starts having beautiful visions of nature that appear both natural and unnatural. Sometimes he’ll climb a mountain to discover a herd of buffalo fleeing a pack of wolves. Other times he’ll look up to the sky to see a ball a fire hurdle across the clouds.
Not to be outdone by DiCaprio, Tom Hardy does an equally impressive job as the calculative villain Fitzgerald. He may not have as many physically demanding scenes to showcase his strength, but he does gobble up most of fantastic dialogue with exceptional delivery. The man is already a sinister presence made all the more ferocious by his powerful acting. When trying to convince a fearful fur trapper to become his ally, he speaks in a manner both sure and terrifying. You don’t want to cross this man as made evident from the unfortunate few who try to out his intentions. The climactic battle between him and DiCaprio is a major highlight of the film with both actors mercilessly brutalizing each other with knives and axes.
The Revenant is a powerful picture of survival - bleak and savage yet enduring and beautiful. The cast is amazing, subjecting themselves to frigid misery to capture the feel and tone of the wintery region. The cinematography is masterfully shot with mesmerizing skies, mountains and woods. It’s at times almost too gritty that you’ll want to turn away, but just can’t look away from the amazing work on camera and behind the camera.