Dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu (2015)
Torture porn? No. Torturous? Definitely. From its lengthy, ambitious production, to rumours of grizzly bear rape, pissed off actors and crew and the “not for women” comment by Jeffery Wells addressed beautifully by Catherine Shoad; Many claims, myths and down right lies have been levelled at Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu‘s latest gruelling film. The actual legendary story of Hugh Glass has, itself, been tweaked and twisted and amped and as the Academy Awards machine builds to a hyperbolic peak The Revenant was in great danger of being white washed by its own vengeful self. Forget all the smoke and mirrors and what is left is a bare and technically stunning piece of work with one intention; To put its audience through one man’s cold, cold hell.
From the intensely sad and thrilling Amores Perros to the soul/heart searching 21 Grams to the not quite there kaleidoscope of Babel and the devastatingly depressing Biutiful the critics and audiences shocked at Iñarritu’s desire to push pain and struggle into cinema was surprising. Were they not familiar with his films or did the spellbinding “one take” Birdman strike all the pain from memory? Stranger still considering that The Revenant is in fact easier on the heart and head than those first four pictures. This is really an electric nervous and visual attack which exists to slice, divide and test.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Glass with a defiant physicality; A fur trapper and a tracker left for dead by a partially scalped and murderous Tom Hardy as the hateful John Fitzgerald. Mauled by a mother bear alone in the woods (a staggering, intense visual effects sequence, but one of the films only compromise on its “reality”) and then buried alive by Fitz, Glass and his journey out of the wilderness towards revenge for the death of his son is tinged with dreamy spiritual influences from Herzog to Malick.
The steady-as-a-rock Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki keeps a wild floating eye on the bloody proceedings with his usual long take technical flare and all of The Revenant‘s two and a half hours are packed with naturally lit eye-popping landscapes. Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto‘s swelling score is like blood coursing from a wound and the acting support is also pitch perfect; A fantastic Will Poulter as Jim Bridger, tasked with staying behind with Fitzgerald to put Glass out of his misery when the time comes, has a naive youthful brilliance about him, holding his own against the always menacing Hardy. Domhnall Gleeson is also great as the moralistic leader of the down and out trappers. But naturally; The film belongs to a nearly wordless DiCaprio.
He makes every wince, groan, stretch, snap, slice, contortion and blow hit you right in the stomach. Glass is surely to be the actor’s timely Oscar crowning role despite being nominated 5 times for more complex, compelling and cerebral work but that just seems to be how the Academy roll these days. If you’re smart enough not to get into the controversy and the hype, The Revenant is a bare-plotted, fearless, visceral machine; There are allusions to themes of redemption through nature, but basically it’s a brazen, chilly and intense tale with a simple message locked in the eyes of DiCaprio’s final stare; Survival is life.