Let’s imagine, you are a washed up superhero actor, working on Broadway, slightly insane and can’t connect with your family. This was the story of Birdman (2014), the last film by Alejandro G. Innaritu. Stakes were high for his next film, especially as it was to star Leonardo “P***y Posse” DiCaprio.
The Revenant (2015) really is somewhat of an outsider in the Oscar field, what with it leading in total nominations. It’s far more artsy than the standard Hollywood biopic, and has far less snappy dialogue, or just dialogue in general. It also, which is surprisingly uncommon, has very few female roles, there probably being two women who speak throughout the entire film.
The Revenant opens with an attack on an 19th century American fur trading mission by Sioux Indians. The Americans are pushed back, with one of them, played by Tom Hardy, resenting another, played by Leo, due to Leo’s sketchy history and the fact his son is half-Indian (even though the tribe his son is from, the Pawnee, are enemies of the Sioux). Leo gets injured later and is left for dead by Hardy, causing him to go on a long quest for revenge.
And when I say long, I mean long. The film is two and a half hours, and personally, it could be half an hour shorter. The film sticks with a rhythm wherein a character or two will spend two to five minutes talking about something, then there’ll be fifteen minutes of silence, then another minute or two of dialogue, then back to silence, lather, rinse, repeat. That’s not to say the silent scenes are boring, they can be quite tense, and suspenseful. It’s just falling into a rhythm which bothers me.
Then there’s the direction. The cinematographer is Emmanuel Lubezki, who worked with Innaritu on his previous film, and with Alfonso Cuaron on Gravity (2013). Needless to say, he’s fairly qualified. Him and Innaritu together form a pair of enfants terribles (that’s ‘terrible children’ for all us French people) that shakes Hollywood to its core. They’ve both taken Stanley Kubrick’s phrase “every frame, a painting” to a whole new level. Every single frame is more beautiful than entire films out right now. One can easily turn off the sound and watch The Revenant, and still be moved (provided said person has dropped acid and has a bowl of nachos and guac to sustain themselves).
The acting is truly wonderful. Leo kills it, though not through dialogue (of which, he has the least of the main characters). He pretty much grunts his way through the film, and my, his grunting is on point. However, the stand-out is not him, but Tom Hardy. Hardy (who stars in both Oscar nomination giants The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)) kills it as the former Texas Ranger turned racist (not surprising, for a Texan) traitor. Another performance to look out for is Domhnall Gleeson (I hope his name is spelt correctly) as the American Commander.
The absolute best thing about The Revenant is its symbolism. I am a huge fan of dark symbolism in film, like how True Detective (2014) is a religious tale, Spirited Away (2001) is an allegory for child prostitution, and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) is really about the Second Sino-Japanese War (don’t tell me you didn’t notice Jar Jar’s parallels with Mao Tse Tung). The Revenant’s symbolism runs deep, with one notable scene involving a destroyed Church, which I took to mean ‘this is a godless land’. There are others which I won’t reveal to avoid spoilers, but don’t take this film at face value.
The Revenant’s problems are mostly to do with screenplay. They don’t bring the film to the bottom of the river, as much as they keep it adequately submerged, with just enough space to properly drown it, in the sweet-spot I like to call ‘the danger zone’. But enough about my sex life, the film is still a strong Oscar contender, with impressive performances and exhilarating direction and cinematography.
The Revenant gets a 6/7