Film Review: The Revenant (★★★½)

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the revenantLike a one-man solo act such as “All is Lost” and “Gravity,” Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s newest and most ambitious work “The Revenant” blends one man’s fight to survive with the even more visible theme of vengeance.  With a career that is full of tremendous performances, five-time Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio offers an intense and moving testament to his legacy as one of modern cinema’s most gifted actors.  On the other side, co-writer and director Iñárritu has seemed to hit his stride as one of our most innovative and meditative filmmakers.  All of this mixed in with the likes of two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, you have “The Revenant” standing tall as one of the year’s most daring and ambitious motion pictures.

“The Revenant,” tells the story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, who in the 1820s, sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.

Inspired by true events, the script by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu is at times, very compelling though not wholly complete.  The urge and ache of survival is apparent in each frame as Hugo Glass is pulled through the wringer, in some of the most brutal scenes seen in years.  Having not read the book by Michael Punke, I immediately did research on Glass and his story, looking at the vast differences.  The theme of masculinity, as often referred to by critics of the book is lost.  Smith and Inarritu’s inclusion of a son, who is both White and Native American, likely gives a casual audience member a tangible motivation for survival and vengeance.  I’m a bit more interested in a film that explores the theme of a man left for dead, with his gun taken away, and how that drives him to a 200-mile quest solely.  The two scribes also add in death and destruction by Native Americans, also on their own quest for vengeance, but never made crystal clear for a solid resolution.  A second revisit is needed for clarity on that front.

The Revenant imageThe big talk for months in trades and publications is the anticipation of the work by Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor who has too often been passed over by Oscar in the eyes of fans and pundits.  With an intense yet subtle meditation of the mind, body, and spirit, DiCaprio delivers one of his finest portrayals of his career.  With a gripping and confident handle on Hugo Glass, DiCaprio’s dedicated and skillfully rendered interpretation is the work of an Oscar-winner.  With a mostly mute performance, DiCaprio utilizes not only his mannerisms but allows the surrounding areas and carcasses to help elevate his stunning portrayal.  On top of that, makes use of a second language to display not just honor but respect.

Admittedly, as the psychopathic and diabolical John Fitzgerald, Tom Hardy will haunt your dreams with a carefully maniacal turn that stands as his best performance since “Bronson.”  Equally as impressive as his co-star Hardy’s eyes have never looked more crazed, with his performance cooking your nerves to their peak.  Though not afforded as much screen time as his co-stars, Domhnall Gleeson gives another soaring example of why we need to utilize him more in every movie we can.  With honor and justice on his sleeve, Gleeson adds another great performance and seems to be embodying an early look career of past greats like Philip Seymour Hoffman.  When the ceiling breaks for this actor, watch out.  Finally, if honor and justice are on Gleeson’s sleeve, heart and disgrace is firmly upon the one of Will Poulter, who gives us a strong glimpse into a very promising future.

Composers Ryûichi Sakamoto, Bryce Dessner, and Carsten Nicolai take a backseat for most of the film, adding subtle undertones to add to the tension, and calling in the bighorns when set pieces and large action scenes call for it.  Gorgeously planted are the designs and natural choices of Production Designer Jack Fisk, that places you right in the cold thick of it, with no chance of letting up.  Jacqueline West‘s cloths are extremely visible as you take notice of the pullovers and soldier gear in scenes where you wouldn’t otherwise.  And finally Stephen Mirrione should be commended for piecing this massive machine together, and while the first 75% of the film soars through like an eagle, a very apparent and feeling hump drums an approximate 30-minute chunk.

Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” doesn’t live up to last year’s Best Picture winner “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” as a slam dunk, the across-the-board lovefest for movie-goers.  There will be many that are put off completely (and NO, I’m not talking about “girls” vs. “the manly men”), while others may be able to stomach most of it without a hiccup.  It’s a film that I want to revisit because I believe there’s more to get from it.  In terms of awards, “The Revenant” should fit nicely within the mold of the Academy’s recent trends, and adds a bloody but soothing end to an otherwise passion-less year for cinema.

The Revenant” opens in limited release on Christmas and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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