Film Review: The Revenant

The Revenant is showing at Plymouth Arts Centre Cinema from 25 – 31 March. 

The Revenant is a relentless piece of filmmaking. Partly based on the true events of famed explorer Hugh Glass and the novel written by Michael Punke, the film tells a familiar tale of revenge in unfamiliar surroundings. The film stars Leonardo Dicaprio as Hugh Glass and chronicles his journey through the South Dakota wilderness after being left for dead by John Fitzgerald played by Tom Hardy.

The film starts by briefly introducing the band of men hunting for pelts in the northern most part of America. They are led by Captain Andrew Henry, played by Domhnall Gleeson who is one of the few truly honourable characters in the film. Their manly banter is viciously interrupted by an attack by Native Americans. The ensuing ten minutes is one of the most visceral battle scenes since Saving Private Ryan’s opening D-Day attack twenty years ago. The action is shown by many different perspectives, depending on how long the character survives. Director Alejandro G Inarritu uses his trademark technique (most recently seen in Birdman) by, using a lot of long takes to show how quickly the violence escalates.

For a film that wasn’t marketed as an action film, (it’s not, of course) the action sequences are incredible. The much talked about and parodied bear attack is one of the highlights of the film. Again like the battle in the film’s opening it appears to be shot in one long take. It really feels like the attack goes on forever and you’re almost willing it to end.

A lot of these sequences of course would have a lot less power if it wasn’t for the tremendous acting in the film. Much has been written about DiCaprio’s performance and if nothing else The Revenant will be remembered as the film that won him the Oscar. However, this feels deserved for the strength of his performance rather than the strength of his career. He barely says anything, in fact he says more in Arikara than in English. He is clearly devoted to the role and does not rely on his star charisma or boyish good looks like in The Wolf of Wall Street or Django Unchained. One of the more enjoyable performances in the film comes from Tom Hardy as Glass’ nemesis Fitzgerald. On the surface he is the villain of the piece and some of the things he does in the film are utterly despicable. However through monologues and other insights into the character, some of his actions and prejudices are understandable. It gives more depth to what could have been a more straightforward bad guy. Tom Hardy is hard to understand at times but Fitzgerald is another great addition to the long list of unhinged characters Mr Hardy has played.

The other star of the film is Mother Nature. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is stunning and makes seeing this film on the big screen an absolute must. The scenery is breath-taking, but it is never romanticized. A massive shot of Glass walking along an ice lake as he makes his way towards his camp is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. He is constantly at odds with nature and it turns on Glass on multiple occasions. Into The Wild is another good example of a film that shows the beauty and terror of the wilderness but in a more contemporary setting.

To paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar winning speech, ‘The Revenant is a transcendent cinematic experience about man’s relationship with nature’. It is a brutal and unrelenting piece of film making, it may have a slightly ponderous middle act and the Native American sub plot is a bit underwritten but the basic revenge story of man vs nature is still as compelling as ever.

Benjamin Cherry

Twitter: @bcherry90

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