By: Gary Murray
Starring: Leonardo DeCaprio, Tom Hardy and Will Poulter
Written by: Mark I. Smith and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Running time: 156 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating: FULL PRICE
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the best actors in current Hollywood. Some of his films include The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street and Titanic. His films have made millions for the studio but the roles have not generated Oscar wins. His latest film The Revenant may change that in a big way.
The film is set in the new territories in the 1820’s. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a guide for a trapping crew in a contested area. The others who think that they own rights to the land are an Indian tribe. The blood between these two groups is unsteady to say the least. They have been attacking and fighting for a long time. The Americans want pelts and the Indians want weapons.
Hugh speaks the native language because at one time he lived with a tribe. He was once married to an Indian and they have had a child together. Now, the child is an almost fully grown man and Hugh’s wife is gone. Hugh has a gamut of emotions, from grieving for his wife and being proud of his son.
As the film opens, we see just how brutal of a life these white men live in this untamed land. There is an attack by the Indians. It is a melee with blood splattering in just about every inch of the screen. More than once the audience is taken aback just like they were in Saving Private Ryan. There is a graceful element to savage brutality to the scene.
After the attack, the men decide to head across country on land and back to civilization. Most of the rest of the film is the trek across the mountain overpass. Along the way, Hugh is mauled by a protecting mama bear. This puts Hugh in an almost vegetative stage but the men decide to create a makeshift stretcher and take him over the mountains. This adds a huge burden on the men. The group must eventually have to split up and the rest decide to leave what is a dead man.
But, Hugh is not dead and he struggles first to get his body to rise and eventually he must struggle alone in the snowy land to get back to civilization. But just getting back is part of the story. The last third of the film is the aftermath. The work is almost three hours but flies at a breakneck pace.
As the movie unfolds across the screen, the audience keeps asking itself “How in the world did they accomplish that?” It is not just the scene between Leonardo and the female bear, which is state of the art computer imagery, blended with old fashioned special effects tricks. The film is crafted in such a way that it could never have been accomplished at any time prior.
Almost from the first frame, there are special effects that are subtle but still impressive. The opening battle has men being gouged by arrows while the camera makes a macabre dance around the victims. It is both poetic and brutal. In another scene, both Leonardo and his horse go off a cliff and into a tree. The breathtaking element takes hold to the point of wondering where did the CGI begin and when did it end. The artists behind all the work should be up for much needed Oscar nods.
Speaking of Oscar nods, that is the word that should be on every voting member about the work of Leonardo DiCaprio. This is easily the best performance in his much lauded career. He is gritty to the point of a Jack London character. Throughout the film, he never has his matinee idol good looks but takes the character actor route of being ugly. Almost from the first frame, there is snot frozen from his nose to his bearded chin.
The biggest praises have to go to director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. He tells a story that could only be told with both the best of special effects and classic themes. His brilliance is in how he melds different tracks into a single collective whole. He captures the simple style of a John Ford with the flair of James Cameron. This is the kind of film that will be studied by cinema classes 100 years from now. It is that important of a work.
The Revenant is one of the best films of the year and makes my top ten list of 2015. It is a hard film to watch at times but it is also a film that should be seen time and time again. A work of art that one will discover different layers as one watches it in multitudes. This is the greatest piece of cinema in the winter.