Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Domhall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Plot: Hugo Glass (Di Caprio), a tracker for some American pelt hunters, is left for dead by the man who murdered his son after being mauled by a grizzly bear.
Sitting down to finally watch The Revenant, the film that took the OSCARs by storm, is a gargantuan task. Everything about this film screams epic, from the cinematography to the moralistic approach to revenge and man’s connection to nature. It earns every word of praise rested on its shoulder, especially in the collaboration between its talented and irregular director and the ever-impressive Di Caprio.
Right from the off, Inarritu amazes. While he has a fine cast, his direction almost presses back their celebrity, taking the shine off their names. While Di Caprio and Hardy lead the ensemble, there are a few other familiar faces in the ground. Yet they never overstay their welcome, Inarritu far more concerned with his story. His directorial style really captures the relationship between this team of American hunters, trapped out in uncharted territory. Inarritu uses cut sparingly, preferring to keep the camera floating around the actors. As Hardy and Gleeson address the other men (Di Caprio is purposefully subdued for the early parts of the film), the camera hovers around the team, almost as if we are watching a documentary before the invention of cameras. It is this trick that keeps Tom Hardy from feeling too Tom Hardy, for example, almost as if he is a real person in the thick of his life, unaware of the director documenting his character arc. If you are impressed by Inarritu with the talking head scenes, prepare to be dazzled when the vengeful Indians come thundering in for blood. The camera uses the same trick, only cutting when absolutely necessary. There is a breath-taking sequence that sees the camera pick a player in the fight and track him until his untimely death in the battle. Then it picks up with another fighter and continues the same journey. It could be someone from either side, named character or extra. It is a brilliant piece of direction and just as Birdman amazed us with Inarritu’s vision as a director, The Revenant fortifies that Inarritu can be just as pleasing a master of the action genre as well as the comedy drama. By the time the fight has come to a pulse-pounded close, one thing is for certain. The Revenant hasn’t just pleased some old critics sitting at the OSCAR table; it is a film with true cinematic prowess and one for any fan of the movies that fancies a bit of high-brow direction with their thrillers.
Before we have caught too much of a breath with the battle, there is the bear fight. Oh, that bear fight… The way the trailers tell it, it could be the highlight of the movie. This suits Inarritu just fine, the marketing fixed so solely around the five minute sequence where Di Caprio takes on a massive grizzly bear, which really is only where his story actually begins, that the audiences are left clueless as to what the movie is really about, something few directors are blessed with in today’s cinema. That being said, it is still the highlight of the movie, a stunning piece of cinema. It sneaks up on you too, springing out of nowhere. Di Caprio spots a few baby cubs in the distance and him, and the audience, are tensed for the appearance of the bear. However, it is almost instantly upon him. Inarritu stays fixed on a close-up of Di Caprio’s face for almost the entire gruelling sequence. As the bear tears chunks out of him, Di Caprio desperately trying to play dead on the hopes it’ll get bored and wander off, we are left unsure as to what the bear will do next. It is a stunning piece of nature vs man, topping anything Liam Neeson did in the Grey and, of course, beating any creature feature a B Movie can bring to the table. Afterwards, the real movie begins with the team of pelt-hunters deciding what to do with Glass’s body, entrusting him with Tom Hardy’s suspicious brute of a hunter and then all hell breaks loose. What follows is Di Caprio dragging his wounded body through gorgeous landscape after gorgeous landscape, seeking revenge and salvation, pushing his body to extremes that shock the viewer and becoming one with the forest at the same time.
And this is where the Revenant takes a nose dive. Everything it does is beautiful from that great scene where the Indians catch up to Glass for the first time, to a scene where Glass watches a pack of wolves attack a herd of buffalo. The cinematography is amazing and it is the kind of movie where you just sit back and revel at the gloriousness of some of the locations Inarritu found to film in. However, it is a three hour long movie and it just sucks so much of the wonder out of the motion picture. Di Caprio and Inarritu make a great team, but they seem so fixed on getting as many great scenes out of the project as possible that too many moments are squeezed into the film. Perhaps the real issue is Inarritu cutting back to the supporting cast as Di Caprio makes his journey (in all honesty, Hardy’s villain stops mattering when he isn’t beating the hell out of our hero), bloating out an already overweight running time. It is hard to see what should be cut as every moment has something clever in its own way (a self-cauterising scene, a scene where Di Caprio escapes some Indians using the rapids). However, where Tarantino might stretch every second out of a scene in his movies, he does it with a sense of fun. Inarritu does it for a sense of art, which while commendable, is a little harder to stomach an hour and forty minutes into a movie. Again, nothing should rob from the beauty of the Revenant, but it is a shame that when Di Caprio finally catches up to Hardy, no matter how many neat tricks the director uses, that final fight fails to conjure up the right about of tension, because the audience are just too damn tired from everything that came before.
Final Verdict: The Revenant is a movie of pure beauty, especially from its incredible director, but a bloated running time pushes patience to Hugo Glass levels of extreme.