Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
A Leonardo DiCaprio movie comes with a lot of expectations that most other movies do not. The star who is yet to win an Oscar for his efforts puts it all in this time around. From sleeping inside the carcass of a horse, then eating raw bison liver, to shooting in inhumanely cold conditions, the man seems to have done most things that a reasonable person would not. His portrayal of a strong-willed spirit defying the limits of a broken body is a beautifully done. Similarly, behind the camera, director, Alejandro González Iñárritu has clearly taken a decision based on pure instinct. The visual journey that Iñárritu, alongside cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki takes us on is spectacular. Shot mostly in natural light and with minimal use of CGI, the strength of The Revenant is the brute rawness that of the snow covered peaks that it successfully conveys. The snow covered trees and the icy waters are not the signifiers of beauty that they usually are, and are instead a constant threat to the well-being of men.
To begin with, a group of fur trappers, guided by Hugh Glass, on an expedition are ambushed by the local inhabitants. The journey takes a turn for the worse after he is mauled by a bear. He is then left with two helpers who will help ease him as he inches towards death. One of them, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), not the nicest guy around ends up killing Glass’ son, who is also a part of the expedition. Previously accepting of his imminent death, the events that unfold push him to remain alive for the pursuit of vengeance.
After the comedic magical realist Birdman in 2014, Iñárritu takes a sharp u-turn in the form of a trip to the great outdoors and how. Lubezki, the man behind the visuals of Birdman and Gravity is a strongrunner in the race of his third consecutive Oscar.
While some take the road less travelled, DiCaprio along with the team seem to have taken a road no one takes because it seems completely unnecessary. Speaking of the harsh conditions on location in Argentina and Canada, Iñárritu has said, “I’m glad that I made that irresponsible decision, but it could have been really bad. You know what I mean? Like when you climb Mount Everest and nobody dies, but we were so close! It’s that feeling of relief.”
Despite the suspension of disbelief that the film invokes, it manages to be surprisingly believable. He then recuperates using the sheer strength of the human will to survive when business is left unfinished.
John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the man that Glass is looking for lies on the other side of the spectrum from Glass. Hardy brings to life the shifty, slippery creature with an overpowering instinct of self-preservation. Fitzgerald is not a menacing, sneering anti-hero, but is a survivor in his own way. He seems spineless at times, and goes to great lengths to avoid confrontation. Unfortunately for him, Glass goes to greater lengths for confrontation. Hardy once again proves that it is next to impossible to put him in a box, when it comes to the kinds of characters he chooses. Hardy, who is known to play around with voices for his roles, chooses one that is almost identical to his booming Bane voice. The result is what Bane would like if he was a Southerner.
In the world of movies, men have been known to defy certain death for revenge. Glass bears inhumane cold, while nursing a possibly shattered foot, a punctured throat, and little to no food as he hobbles on towards his newly found reason to live. He is mauled by a bear, buried alive, thrown off a cliff on a horse, and also from a waterfall into sub-zero temperatures. An episode of Man vs Wild set in the 1800s might have been very similar to the proceedings. Glass’ only wish is to confront the man who has killed his son, and apparently made him immortal in the process.
The character of Hugh Glass is starkly contrasting to one that Di Caprio is well-known for; the charming smooth talker. Here, he is a simple man with one thing on his bucket list: not dying. He is also not much of a talker. Crawling out of a shallow grave dug for him, he takes a painful time to recover and grunts, crawls and slobbers, and wheezes his way towards life.
Despite the suspension of disbelief that the film invokes, it manages to be surprisingly believable. He then recuperates using the sheer strength of the human will to survive when business is left unfinished. Shot in temperatures that went as low as -25 degrees Celsius, the actors do not seem to have a hard time emoting distress, because they’re proabably feeling it. The film is a testament to the toughness of the human spirit, especially if that human spirit has never won an Oscar.
The theme of man against nature is a constant in the film. While Glass is at a clear disadvantage in the beginning of the confrontation, over the course of time, he uses this very adversary as an ally and weapon against enemies. The journey of DiCaprio takes him from a dominant member of a group of men to a defiant spirit refusing to be tied down by the limits of a broken body.
The tale of revenge is now as old as time and a constant trope in Hollywood. However, here it becomes a three way battle as the two men must battle their greatest adversary, nature, before they can even hope to come to some sort of a resolution amongst themselves. Adapted from the 2002 novel of the same name, The Revenant is supposedly based on a true story. The tale dates back to the early 19th century and is considered more of a Frontier legend than a true account. However, Alejandro puts his own spin on the tale and makes changes from the book.
Leonardo DiCaprio has always been undeniably talented. He has also always been undeniably white. Put the two together, and we have ourselves the frontrunner for the ‘best actor’ award this year.