Leonardo DiCaprio is like Pixar; when you think he just can’t outdo his last performance, he finds a way to surprise you. In The Revenant, Iñarritu’s follow up to his Oscar winning Birdman, DiCaprio gives one of his most physically demanding roles in his entire career, there are simply no limits to his man’s versatility.
The Revenant is based on the true story of the 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio). After a raid by some Native Americans, the expedition of fur traders that Glass has been leading is left shaken and cold on a boat. The expedition’s head: Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) puts all his faith on Glass, who knows the land like the back of his hand, this does not bode well with many of the other men, especially a raunchy Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who thinks that because Glass has a Native American son, that he is not entirely reliable. One morning, while scouting ahead, Glass is mauled by a bear in one of the most realistic and gripping scenes of the whole movie. The captain decides to leave some men behind with a near-comatose Glass while the rest of the expedition pushes to the nearest fort where they can send help back. Fitzgerald is one of the men who stay back. However, after certain events transpire, Fitzgerald abandons Glass, half-buried in his own grave. But Glass is not dead; he goes on a harrowing journey against nature, and with the sole purpose of revenge.
The story is certainly marketed as a revenge story, but it really is more of a survivalist film than anything else. It reminded me more of Jeremiah Johnson than it did Unforgiven, although this film has an extra touch that makes it so unique: Iñarritu. Iñarritu is known for his incredibly dark dramas, from Amores Perros, to 21 Grams, and even Birdman had a dark shadow looming in the background. With The Revenant, Iñarritu want to show you the dark and gritty of nature and mankind, he doesn’t hold back or pull the camera away from any moment. In fact his long shots allowed for a greater sense of realism (something that obsessed him in this film, he also wanted to shoot the whole film in natural light). And while the film is Iñarritu’s longest, it is so well managed and composed that I never once looked down at my watch. However, Iñarritu’s dark specialty sometimes goes over the edge, similar to Denis Villeneuve with 2015’s Sicario. In The Revenant, although it is directed so well you barely notice it, when you take a step back and look at all the horrors that Glass has suffered, it does seem a bit too much. How can one man suffer the mauling of a bear, falling off a cliff, sleeping naked inside a horse, falling off a waterfall, surviving two attacks by Native Americans, survive being buried alive, and much more? Iñarritu might have outdone himself, and with it, it does take away that sense of credibility that the director was seeking so arduously.
While DiCaprio was, rightfully, the star of this film, the rest of the cast was extremely strong as well. Will Poulter gives a surprising turn as the conflicted and conscientious Bridger, and Domhnall Gleeson gives us yet another mature performance as the desperate Captain of the expedition. I was eager to see Tom Hardy as well, but I feel that he has spoiled us with so many great performances in 2015; so much, that with such a complex character like Fitzgerald, it simply seems like his business as usual for us. But we all want to talk about DiCaprio, and what surprised me most was not the physical extremities he was forced under, but the incredibly shift in dialogue from the cacophonous The Wolf on Wall Street, to this film in which his character has barely any dialogue at all.
In the end the film is an incredible epic, and Iñarritu doesn’t disappoint, he brings us the real and gritty, making the audience flinch with every stab, slash, and crack. DiCaprio gives an incredible performance that might as well win him that eluding Oscar. But most important of all, the film explores the primitive will that all humans have had to survive.