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USA 2015
Directed by
Alejandro González Iñárritu
156 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Revenant

Synopsis: The story of how legendary early 19th century frontiersman, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), survived firstly an ambush by Indians then an attack from a grizzly bear and only to be left for dead by his companions in the snowy wilderness of North America.

It is somewhat surprising given the originality of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s previous film, the multi-Oscar-winning Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), that his follow-up film is essentially a conventional (albeit fact-based) adventure story. But have no fear, The Revenant is bold, vigorous  film-making that only feels slightly routine on those few occasions when the conventions of the genre make themselves too visible.

Because the film is such a physically-focussed, immersive experience it is not one  that can be easily summed up by running through the pluses and minuses of its component parts. Under Iñárritu’s direction, the visuals by master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (responsible for Birdman) and the dramatic score by Bryce Dessner, Carsten Nicolai and veteran composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, combine with the gruelingly visceral performances of Leonard DiCaprio and Tom Hardy to create a relentlessly intense experience. From the bravura opening scene of the Indian attack which showcases Lubezki's dynamic camerawork, to the final frame of a broken and exhausted but vindicated Glass staring directly into the camera, The Revenant transports you into its story of grim survival and holds you firmly there for its 2 and a half hours running time.

What makes The Revenant so compelling is that, unlike Ron Howard’s just-released high seas adventure story, In The Heart Of The Sea. Iñárritu, with understandable exceptions such as the bear attack on Glass, keeps the action realistic rather than relying on the technological compensations of computer graphics. It is one of those films for which the rigours of production are essential to its success and in this respect  especially it recalls Joe Carnahan’s excellent 2012 survivalist film, The Grey

In the lead Leonardo DiCaprio gives his all in a physically punishing role. One feels the pain, the terror, the exhaustion of his character, a man already grieving the loss of his Indian wife at the hands of the Whites, who must draw on the very last drop of his willpower to survive the ordeals to which man and beast subject him. In the former category a barely recognizable Tom Hardy gives a marvellous performance as John Fitzgerald, a mean-spirited low-life, brother to no man, who becomes Glass’s sworn enemy.  

As it progresses the film shifts into a revenge mode and it is particularly here that those genre conventions which allow the hero to best the villain and any obstacles that impede his goal despite his apparently much-weaker position, tend to intrude. In a more mundane film these would be entirely acceptable, indeed essential, narrative stepping stones but here they feel a little too out-of-keeping with the less orthodox artistic cadences of the film.  Even so, The Revenant is an impressive achievement that will reward anyone looking for an enthralling cinematic experience.




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