I had to sum up The Revenant in one word, it would be: grueling.
That’s not a knock on the film’s quality by any means, though it doesn’t always make for an easy viewing experience. As with his last film, the Best Picture winning Birdman, director Alejandro González Iñárritu continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible when it comes to filmmaking. It’s funny, because there are some parallels between Riggan Thomson, the main character of Birdman, and Iñárritu himself. Where Riggan was tasked with proving himself as a ‘real actor’ and adapting a novel into a stage play (which he was also the star of), Iñárritu has attempted to best himself with the largest, most visually arresting film of his very esteemed career.
Taking place in the early 1800s during an expedition in uncharted territory in the American wilderness, fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is left fatally injured following a bear attack. He’s left for dead, and his son is murdered by members of his party. The film’s plot follows Glass’ harrowing journey across the wilderness as he vows revenge on those who wronged him.
There has been a lot of talk and hype concerning DiCaprio’s performance. “Could this be the one that wins him that elusive Oscar?” is a question on many pundits’ minds. After four nominations and no wins, is this the performance that brings him home the gold?
It’s still too soon to tell, as the Best Actor category is curiously weak this year, and with no frontrunners in any of the categories (yet), it’s anyone’s to win at this point. DiCaprio’s history with Oscar, and his name alone definitely give him an edge. The performance itself is quiet, and I mean that in a literal sense. DiCaprio doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue, rather, grunts and pants his way through the film. That being said, one has to admire the extreme physicality of the role; This is the most physically immersed DiCaprio has ever been on film. He’s already showcased this in The Wolf Of Wall Street, but here, his body is put through the ringer. A lot of his campaign has focused on the lengths he went to prepare for the role (such as eating raw animal meat and sleeping inside of an animal). If he wins, I imagine it will be a combination of the ‘It’s time to award him’ and the physicality of the role, which always scores points with the acting branch.
As for the other players, there isn’t much here in the way of performances. Tom Hardy makes for an unlikable villain, and possesses the most dialogue out of anyone else in the story, but there’s really not a lot for him to work with here. Domnhall Gleeson also shows up, but he’s much better in Ex-Machina and even Brooklyn.
The highlight of the film, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, is the visuals. I don’t know how, but Emmanuel Lubezki has once again delivered some bravura cinematic gold. There are jaw-droopingly gorgeous shots here, and the fact the film was lit using only natural light adds to the magnitude of the achievement. Together, Lubezki and Iñárritu take us back before man industrialized nature, in all of its desolate, yet dangerous beauty.
It’s very clear that Iñárritu was heavily inspired by the filmmaking of Terrance Malik. There’s more than a dozen moments here that are directly taken from The Tree of Life and The New World. But like so much of Malik’s filmography, sometimes the visual prowess is used in place of actual ideas. There’s so much beauty in The Revenant, that sometimes it’s hard to take issue with this. But one can’t help but feel that more of an emotional connection or investment would have made the film a more immersive and engaging experience, the kind Iñárritu wants to believe it is.
Oscar Chances: I do believe The Revenant will be present within the final Best Picture lineup. Leo will surely be a Best Actor nominee, and as I said before, he could most definitely win the whole thing. Lubezki and Iñárritu are assured nominations within in their respective categories. Whether or not Lubezki can win for the third year in a row for Best Cinematography depends entirely on how gaga the Academy goes for the film. Reviews haven’t been as rapturous as they were for Birdman, but then again critics don’t vote for the Oscars. Some are predicting Tom Hardy for Best Supporting Actor, but I’m not sure he can breakthrough such a stacked category; It’s not that kind of scene stealing performance, as compelling as it may be/some might find it.