Thursday, January 21, 2016

Film Review: The Revenant (2016)

The Revenant

In early 19th century North America, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) has lead a pack of pelt hunters from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company across the frontier wilderness along the Missouri river. Under the expertise of experienced tracker Hugh Glass (Leo DiCaprio), they have come to the end of their expedition and are preparing their haul for transport back to the outpost, when nearby Arikara warriors looking for their kidnapped chieftain’s daughter attack them.

Glass and Henry lead the few survivors – Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and the selfish John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and others – down the river on a boat to escape.  Further down the river they set up camp, only for Glass to get into a horrific accident whilst searching for food.  After tending to his seemingly fatal wounds, Henry leads the survivors back to the outpost, leaving Fitzgerald in charge of Hawk and Bridger to look after Glass until his final breath.  A decision that everyone will live to regret… 

In comparison to last year’s absurdly satirical masterpiece Birdman, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu has completed changed tack with this year’s The Revenant.  Whereas Riggan Thomas (AKA. Birdman) was trying to resuscitate his life in the media eye as a serious actor and get revenge on his critics, Hugh Glass is trying to literally resuscitate himself in the unforgiving American winter and get his revenge.

DiCaprio delivers a painful performance as he, quite literally, crawls back from the grave, his body broken and rotting from the cold.  At times having to make as much use as possible from the harsh landscape and hostile animals as he can to survive.  Hardy, on the other hand, is captivating not because of the ordeal he has to endure but for the character that he embodies: a dark and ugly manifestation of American exceptionalism.

As the characters negotiate the brutal topography and climate of the unchartered (by Western souls) land, Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera sweeps effortlessly across the tundra and forests with a chilling score by Antonio Sánchez.  The camera cuts between harrowing close up of the pained faces of the desperate men, to long spectacular shots of miles of bleak nothingness as far as the lens can see.  Shot almost entirely without CGI and with natural light, the production team had to cross the globe in search of locations as far apart as Canada and Southern Argentina – yet the result is nothing but breathtaking.  The cold ice glares out of the cinema screen chilling your bones as you watch…

Film buffs were (rightly) left in awe last year at Birdman’s deceptive single-take editing achievement, yet during the many expansive action sequences of The Revenant the lingering hand held camera shots amongst the warring tribes and stampeding buffalo are astonishing.

As desolate and agonizing as the film is to experience, the natural beauty of the locations are blinding and the narrative fascinating.  At a time of increased attention on America’s obsession with immigration, this film reminds us all of the brutal birth of the nation and the horrors that the First Nation American’s endured at the hand of Western explorers.

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