Tara Coughlin ’19
Recently released on DVD, Alejandro Iñarritu’s “The Revenant” is a film that has now earned widespread recognition seemingly on the sole basis of being “the movie that got Leonardo DiCaprio the Oscar.” Even before the film was released, early trailers were not subtle in their framing and presentation of the actor in a variety of grueling and compromising physical tasks. These trailers were no doubt edited to show the level of DiCaprio’s commitment in his performance.
But aside from the commendable and physically intensive labor DiCaprio brought to the project, is the film worth viewing? Absolutely. If for nothing else, “The Revenant” is an impressive showcase of stunning cinematography and excellent supporting roles that help elevate the somewhat thin “revenge story” narrative.
The story follows fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a team of fur trappers as they are forced to abandon their site and pelts when they are attacked by a Native American tribe. Along on the expedition is the temperamental John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a belligerent man who takes an instant animosity towards Glass and his biracial son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). When Glass is brutally mauled by a bear, impairing his movement and speech, the expedition team is forced to leave him behind in the care of Fitzgerald as they journey onward. When Fitzgerald leaves Glass for dead, the film follows his slow crawl towards life and revenge.
DiCaprio is the heart of this movie. While the role of Hugh Glass often reduces him to an inarticulate, animalistic man who’s hell-bent on revenge and survival, the actor is nonetheless engaging and gives a particularly moving performance, especially in the film’s subtler scenes.
The supporting roles are also excellent. Tom Hardy certainly gives Glass and the audience more than enough incentive to hate Fitzgerald. Like Glass, Fitzgerald is an almost inarticulate man who is similarly concerned with survival. All nobler sentiments that are in Glass, however, are nowhere to be found in Fitzgerald, as life has reduced him to an avaricious and remorseless man.
Yet none of the characters feel like anything less than products of their environment, due to Iñárritu’s direction and the excellent cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki which fully immerse you in the environment of the early 19th century Northern U.S. territory. Iñárritu’s excellently choreographed scenes of action are incredibly visceral and immediate. The bear attack sequence alone was one of the most cringe-inducing scenes I have ever had to sit through in a film.
Iñárritu’s films often focus on stripping characters down to their core. The environmental setting of the film perfectly aids in advancing that theme. Nature plays a primary role in this film, and it can be a presence of awe-inspiring beauty or remorseless destruction. Extreme long shots are often used to frame Glass and other actors amidst the expansive snowy and mountainous terrain, thus emphasizing their diminutiveness.
The impressive cinematography is made all the more extraordinary when considering the film used all natural lighting while shooting. This made the viewing experience particularly immersive. The brutality and magnificence of the world is fully felt in every scene.
“The Revenant” is a formidable film to get through. The film never relents from the drama and breathtaking visuals well established in the beginning of the film. It is certainly a film worth seeing for its cinematic technique and excellent performances. We can now say Dicaprio finally won an Oscar, and that award was fully deserved.