The Revenant, 2016.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Anderson, Lukas Haas, Brendan Fletcher, Forrest Goodluck, and Grace Dove.
In the 1820s, a frontiersman, Hugh Glass, sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.
You would assume that with a production history of being passed between numerous directors, taking over a decade to complete, that The Revenant might take on a miss-cut mosaic of scenes moulded to separate styles, with the thumbprint of each director clearly detectable in every segmented scene. However, The Revenant is anything but. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is a breath-taking and intimate experience. Its tactile approach to cinematography detains its audience forcing them to share in every experience its characters enter into. The film’s eclectic raw qualities keep the narrative consistently captivating and solely unique.
Much like Iñárritu’s Birdman, The Revenant is relentless in its ambitions. It strives for authenticity and realism, while also exploring through its cinematic liberties, exaggerated action sequences that keep the momentum of the film in balance with the true events it attempts to replicate. The landscape and soundtrack work symbiotically to illustrate themes of distance, isolation and grief emphasising the emotion of those striving to survive in the wintery wilderness of native America.
The Revenant marks cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s second collaboration with director Alejandro Iñárritu, proving on equal ground to the aesthetic quality of Birdman that the two are still capable of producing strikingly new visual ways of experiencing cinema. In the same way Birdman was shot and edited as one single sequence, blurring the lines between viewing and experiencing, The Revenant similarly implores the same features to include the viewer in the action. The camera tracks the movement of all its characters as if looming over them. It presses its way into every scene amplifying every emotion, bridging the gap between what the characters feel and what you begin to feel. The intimacy between the performer and the camera is gripping, capturing every trial and detail of their experience.
Notorious for pushing the boundaries and limits of his actors, Iñárritu experiments with style and flair in equal measure. Birdman was an ambitious, although not new attempt to create a film as if in one take, demanding a near perfect performance from his actors. With The Revenant, Iñárritu demands authenticity rather than perfection. His decision to shoot entirely with all natural light, favouring digital film for its ability to provide an extra two hours of filming at dusk and dawn, works to the advantage of reflecting the grief and scale of the protagonist’s pursuit.
DiCaprio both figuratively and literally, breathes life into the character of Hugh Glass. With every baited breath and panting groan you are convinced by his drive for vengeance. Despite containing very little dialogue, the narrative provides enough action for you to believe his feelings are fully justifiable. The many instances where Hardy and DiCaprio look straight down the camera lens, breathing against its cold glass, only serve to magnify the intensity of their performance. Both actors refuse to give away any indication that they are anything but John Fitzgerald or Hugh Glass. This is especially impressive considering the intimacy shared between camera and actor.
After being absent from film for two years DiCaprio’s first role since The Wolf of Wall Street illustrates the actors unyielding abilities and determination that complement Iñárritu’s drive for realism. Consuming raw bison liver and withstanding freezing temperatures on location in Canada and Southern Argentina, DiCaprio’s performance is one of intimacy and realism. You flinch and feel for the character of High Glass because DiCaprio’s performance makes you.
The film marks the return of acclaimed composer Ryuichi Sakamoto to Western cinema. Still recovering from cancer in 2015, Sakamoto was attracted to composing the score for The Revenant after seeing Birdman. In an interview with Ruth Saxel of The Faded, Sakamoto stated that “working on the film is like a journey to an unknown place. [The Revenant] is a 19th century, 1820s, wild-west story—but I have experienced that.” This effect is translated perfectly into the film. The composition of the music defines the landscape and then takes you through it… crawling. What Sakamoto produces is a hollow and eerie sensation that amplifies the dramatic unforgiving landscape. Sakamoto’s score emphasises nature’s order over ours, conveying the distance of scene and setting and how we exist in these settings but not a part of these settings.
The Revenant is evidence of how when all aspects of cinema work together in fluidity, what can be achieved. As Alejandro González Iñárritu’s longest film to date, standing at 2 hours and 36 minutes, the performance, style and sound of the film will keep hold of you for every minute. The experience of watching The Revenant is an exhausting one that leaves the bitter sweet taste of copper in your mouth, after biting down on your lip for close to 3 hours.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★