Set in the early days of the American Frontier, an era that has gone untouched by cinema for some time, The Revenant is, as the name suggests, a tale of revenge. Abandoned by his comrades after a vicious mauling by a grizzly bear, frontiersman and trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is forced to become one with the wilderness in order to survive the journey back to civilisation.
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, this is a film that pulls no punches with regard to the brutality of its setting. The bear attack, which gained infamy prior to the film’s release, is one of many instances which had viewers audibly wincing. Combined with very impressive make-up and visual effects, Iñárritu’s piece truly brings to life the raw danger of the frontier. From howling blizzards to icy rivers, the environment and setting of the film arguably play the biggest role in narrative. The Revenant has already garnered much acclaim through its visuals, and rightly so. Not since The Lord Of The Rings trilogy has such stunning scenery been filmed to such great effect, and as a huge fan of that trilogy, this is not a statement this reviewer makes lightly. Combined with a simple yet powerfully emotional score composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, this a film to which the word ‘epic’ can be justly applied.
The acting in the this film deserves some praise too. DiCaprio delivers one of his best performances to date in a role that ranges from desperate to vengeful to simply broken. Being able to convey defiant rage whilst neither speaking or moving is a fine example of this skill, when Glass is initially abandoned. His nemesis, the cold and scalped John Fitzgerald, is portrayed terrifically by Tom Hardy, and a supporting cast including Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter really add to the cold and harsh immersion of the frontier.
In spite of such praise, however, The Revenant is not without flaw. It’s 156 minute run-time can certainly be felt in places, when the camera lingers in one of its many landscape shots for just a little too long. There is a fine line between a film being well-paced and simply having nothing happen, and The Revenant does not walk this line well. There are a few elements, such as Glass’s hallucinations of his dead wife, that add very little to the narrative and simply slow the film down. Additionally, there are moments when the films brutality crosses the line into ridicule, one of which had the audience audibly smirking.
In summary, The Revenant is a fine film in many respects, well deserving of its praise. The story is compelling, the visuals absolutely breathtaking and DiCaprio’s performance may well be Oscar-worthy. However, it is not what I would define as ‘casual viewing’ by any means, due to its visceral nature and often slow pacing, and certainly cannot be enjoyed by everyone at any time.