A marriage between brutality and beauty sounds like a near impossible task, but it is one masterfully executed in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2015 masterwork, The Revenant. Loosely based on real events that took place in the North American winter of 1823, this film defies everything stereotypical of a Hollywood film, evidenced by its cinematography, production design, unpredictability, acting, and much more.
The first and foremost element of The Revenant that demands your respect is its cinematography, which is utterly mesmerising. As hyperbolic as it may sound, director of photography Emmanuel Libenski is at his zenith the same way Miles Davis achieved perfection with Kind of Blue. Every element of cinematography, including camera movements, angles, framing is nailed flawlessly. Under Iñárritu’s direction, Libenski treats the film like real art, achieving a contrast between beautiful and macabre imagery, all while remaining breathtaking throughout. The only nitpicking element I can possibly pin-point is the occasionally overly lengthy duration of the landscape shots, and a few errant droplets splattered on the camera lens that draw you out of the moment. However, the slavish fidelity towards natural lighting is mind-boggling, further emphasising how The Revenant is powered by its highly realistic approach to both filmmaking and the nature of life.
The Revenant presents a variety of themes that typically occur in Iñárritu’s films, such as revenge, hope and endurance. Another trait of Iñárritu's films is that you are fully engaged in a true cinematic experience, which to me, means that your mind, heart and spirit are all engaged in the narrative and performances, and you may find yourself questioning the meaning of life. I should also caution that The Revenant carries a firm MA15+ rating, justified by highly realistic and gory bear attacks, battles and stabbings guaranteed to unsettle any viewer.
Leonardo DiCaprio, who is undoubtedly a superstar in this film, proves how actions and emotive expressions speak 1000 times louder than dialogue, no matter how well written it may be. Most of his scenes are actually bereft of dialogue; for roughly 15 minutes, he is incapacitated, and grunts, groans and screams his way through the 90 minute duration of his journey. DiCaprio also puts aside his commitment to vegetarianism, eating raw fish and bison livers, and sleeping inside horse carcasses, giving any dedicated method actor a serious run for their money.
In addition to DiCaprio’s performance as Hugh Glass, Tom Hardy plays the villainous John Fitzgerald really well, borrowing elements from his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. However, it’s clear that his scenes with DiCaprio are stronger than those without. There is also another big star in The Revenant that doesn't even appear on screen, and that is composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Complimented by the flawless sound mix, his score is sparing, but when it does occur, incredibly haunting and majestic, with the variety of themes, ostinatos and drones guaranteed to send chills down anyone’s spine. The seamless integration of natural sounds into the score is another reason why this soundtrack should not have been disqualified from the Academy Awards.
Although The Revenant should not be compared to other films, I will say that this film, in my opinion, is the Apocalypse Now of the 21st century, in the sense that despite a troublesome shoot, a hard-working cast and crew emerged to produce a film set in the wilderness covering heavy thematic content, but ultimately achieving a unique kind of greatness that is unlikely to be replicated in the near future.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆