With the amount of acclaim that Birdman received last year, it was hard to imagine director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki ever being able to top themselves. It happened.
Simply put, The Revenant is one of the most beautiful, poetic, and gritty stories ever put to film. Based on the true life of 19th century fur trader Hugh Glass (played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio), The Revenant is an awe-inspiring look at man's battle against nature and himself.
Much has been made about Lubezki's strict adherence to using natural lighting in crafting the images of the film, and it absolutely pays off. This creative choice immerses the audience in the unforgiving wilderness along with DiCaprio, who's performance is largely driven without dialogue.
Characteristic of Lubezki, there are a few standout one-take sequences. Where Birdman's one-take look could come off as style over substance, the use of the one-take in The Revenant serves the greater narrative at large and helps the audience to understand the action taking place.
Not too deep into the film, Glass gets mauled by a bear, one of the most visceral scenes anyone could see. Even though the bear was CGI, additional elements like the beast's breath fogging up the lens and the way it interacts with DiCaprio is simply breathtaking. The fight is done in one take and will leave you scratching your head as to how the scene was filmed.
The film's 156-minute runtime may feel too long for some, but each second is such a joy to watch. There are countless shots and moments that are forever burned in your memory. This is a testament to the combination of Iñárritu's directing and DiCaprio's performance which sort of beats the audience into a sort of trance. You just can't take your eyes off it.
At it's heart, The Revenant is a revenge story between Glass and rival fur trader John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Hardy, while typecast as a mumbling grizzled outdoorsman, is the perfect complement and rival to DiCaprio's Glass and plays one of the most despicable characters imaginable. While Fitzgerald exploits his fellow man to survive, Glass lives off the land. This is an ever-present thematic exploration throughout the film.
The supporting cast which includes Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Forest Goodluck all put in solid performances, but it's DiCaprio and Hardy's show through and through.
Although Glass' revenge on Fitzgerald is the central focus of The Revenant, its artistic riffs elevate the material to a whole other level. The resilience and pliancy of trees are used as a visual metaphor for Glass' internal struggle. His "rebirth" after the bear attack are also realized in poetic imagery.
While the film does stray from history at its halfway point, The Revenant never loses sense of character or tone and is truly a cinematic achievement for the ages.Our Rating: Enshrine