The Revenant: Brutal but Beautiful
revenant: one that returns after death or a long absence
The Revenant is Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to the Best Picture winning Birdman. I’ve liked Iñárritu’s films since attending a screening of his first Spanish language movie Amores Perros in a film club in college. (I’m better than you, is what I’m saying.) I have a fairly extensive vocabulary, but “revenant” was a word that was unfamiliar to me, so I’ve included the definition to save you a trip to the dictionary.
I liked Birdman, a lot, but I didn’t LOVE it in the same way I loved Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. Nevertheless, a best picture winner’s follow up is always of interest to film buffs. I had read articles about the difficulty of shooting this film, as the director wanted it all filmed in natural light, in the middle of the wilderness. I’m a sucker for behind-the-scenes stories like that, so I was very intrigued. Last but not least, I was also blown away by the trailer; I felt as though I was on that horse with Leo, fleeing for my life.
I enjoyed The Revenant very much. It’s a very brutal man vs. nature tale AND a revenge story thrown in for good measure. As such, a lot of the imagery in the film is very gory, bloody, and/or violent. The brutality is a nice counterpoint to the majestic, epic landscapes the filmmakers are able to capture.
- The cinematography. Right off the bat, the cinematography hooks the viewer into this film. Only natural light was used while filming, so the sense of realism is uncanny. The opening scene showed you what kind of movie you are in for; a beautiful wilderness landscape marked by violence and blood, both of human and animal origin.
- The performances. The memes are already popping up about “Give Leo an Oscar already.” A lot of other reviewers have dissected his performance already, so I wont’ do it here. Suffice it to say, his performance IS amazing. A lot of credit is also due to the rest of the cast, especially Tom Hardy. Hardy is the opposite of Leo, but you can still relate to him and understand his motivation. That makes for a memorable villain. Between Bronson, Mad Max, and now The Revenant, Tom Hardy is quickly becoming my favorite contemporary actor. Domhnall Gleeson gives a fine performance as the company’s captain as well. I can’t think of a single weak performance in this film.
- The story. It’s both a man vs. nature AND a revenge movie. These are universal concepts that all humans can understand and sympathize with the protagonist. As for stakes? I don’t know how the stakes could be higher than having to survive alone in the wilderness after being mauled by a bear. That’s an automatically compelling story, but the filmmakers don’t rest on their laurels. The introduction of every further obstacle raises the stakes that much more, so you really want to root for Leo’s character.
- The directing/editing. This movie is 2.5 hours long, but doesn’t feel so long. It’s engaging the whole time and the credit has to go to Iñárritu’s direction and his editing team.
Honestly, it was hard for me to come up with my cons. I enjoyed the film that much. However, as no film is perfect, I was able to come up with a couple.
- The CGI was mostly seamless, but it was slightly off in a couple of places. The herd of bison comes immediately to mind, as does a couple of frames of the bear attack.
- About three quarters of the way through the movie, there’s a piercing noise (like when you hear a loud noise and are just getting your hearing back). For some reason, this noise continues for what seems like ten minutes and I found it very distracting.
- At one point, Leo looks directly at the camera after seeing a disturbing vision. I found it funny when it was supposed to be dramatic. Anyone else?
Final verdict: The Revenant is filmmaking at its best and most challenging, both for the creators and the filmgoers. Technically, it’s (mostly) brilliant. The story is an amazing tale of survival and revenge, both of which are visceral, universal topics which are handled expertly. Bravo.
Story: ★★★★ of 5
Cinematography: ★★★★★ of 5
Directing/Editing: ★★★★★ of 5
Acting: ★★★★ of 5
Overall: ★★★★½ of 5
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