It’s interesting what one major film can do to bring a director completely into the spotlight. For Alejandro González Iñárritu it was Birdman. While initially unimpressed, it took a second viewing to fully appreciate the technical wizardry and fall in love with the film the way everyone else did. A second look won’t be necessary with his newest Oscar-lock, The Revenant, based in part on the novel by Michael Punke. Filled with scene after scene of startling brutality and spectacular performances from a roster of A-listers, the film more than lives up to expectations. Iñárritu has delivered an amazing film that’s every bit as challenging to sit through at times as it must have been to put together.
In 1823, a group of fur hunters — Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), under the command of Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) — come under attack by the local American Indians. After narrowly escaping on the river, a pursuit gives way, with Glass fighting for his life following a bear attack. Henry bribes Fitzgerald and Bridger to stay behind to see Glass get a proper burial once he finally dies. Fitzgerald winds up killing Hawk in front of his father and inducing a frenzy upon Bridger, giving the opportunity to leave Glass for dead. Little do they know that Glass isn’t going down without a fight and starts a crusade back to base camp to seek revenge. Meanwhile, a company of Americans Indians are hot on everyone’s trail, trying to rescue a kidnapped girl.
Revenge is the name of the game and Iñárritu’s The Revenant puts both DiCaprio and the audience through the wringer. Swept up in the harsh winter onscreen, the film is so fully realized that you’ll wish you’d brought a coat. And DiCaprio’s performance might finally be the one that wins him that oft teased golden statue. The entire film is an exercise in audience punishment with no holding back on the violence and extreme realities of being stuck in the mountains. My friend coined this “a western Apocalypto” and he couldn’t be more right. A particular scene harkens back to The Empire Strikes Back as Glass goes to an unexpected extreme to keep warm overnight. Not to mention the bear attack is single-handedly the most vicious and realistic onscreen animal attacks since Jaws.
The rest of the cast all stand alongside DiCaprio with outstanding performances. Hardy is stellar as expected, in what only adds to his list of memorable performances this year including Mad Max: Fury Road and Legend, while Gleeson continues to prove to be fantastic no matter what role he’s in. With as much love that’s about to be thrown Leo’s way, the real star of The Revenant is Iñárritu. The man never shies away from the elements and has crafted yet another stunning achievement. Considering Iñárritu’s co-writer’s credits — Mark L. Smith, who typically works in the horror genre, but I can see how it could have helped here — I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire shooting script was a rewrite. Thankfully, The Revenant is one of the best films of the year and even at a staggering 156 minute runtime, I can’t wait to witness it again. The film truly is an experience that you don’t want to miss.