The Revenant Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Screenwriter: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mark L. Smith
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck 20th Century Fox
Rated R | 156 Minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2015 | January 7, 2016
Co-written and directed by Academy Award-winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel), The Revenant is a western adventure-thriller inspired by the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass. The screenplay by Mark L. Smith (Vacancy) and Iñárritu is loosely based Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name.
On an 1823 expedition of the American wilderness, explorer and fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a massive grizzly bear. Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the leader of the expedition, details two men, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), to stay with Glass and provide a proper burial once he passes.
A fugitive mercenary, Fitzgerald decides to abandon the dying frontiersman. He deceives young Bridger with tales of hostile Indians, murders Glass’s Native American son (Forrest Goodluck), and leaves the unconscious Glass for dead in the wilderness. When he comes to, Glass is determined to survive and seek vengeance on Fitzgerald. He begins a 200-mile odyssey across an unforgiving landscape in the dead of winter to spill the blood of the man who wronged him.
The Revenant is beautiful to behold but entirely empty. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have crafted a film that looks like a masterpiece, with stunning scenery shot in natural light and long, continuous takes, but it’s little more than a pulpy revenge flick dressed up in arthouse trappings. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate – I enjoy pulpy revenge flicks.
DiCaprio spends the film’s 156-minute runtime grunting, groaning, and crawling around in the snow, feigning madness in hopes of attaining that which has alluded him for so many years: an Academy Award. Whether it’s swimming in frozen rivers or sleeping inside animal carcasses, DiCaprio is pulling out all the stops in his quest for the gold, and while risking hypothermia may impress some voters, it does little to make me care about his character.
It’s Tom Hardy who deserves accolades for his work here. From Mad Max: Fury Road to Legend and now The Revenant, Hardy is having a hell of a year. He plays Fitzgerald as a desperate man, hardened by the harshness of the untamed world, who feels no remorse for taking lives to save his own. His unwitting accomplice is Poulter’s high-strung Bridger, a good-natured if naive young man haunted by the brutality he has witnessed.
Glass, meanwhile, is plagued by visions of his dead wife and son. These scenes, which are reminiscent of Maximus’ ethereal illusions in Gladiator, add little to the film, other than reminding the audience that Iñárritu is an artistic genius, of course. The fancy camerawork on display isn’t in service of the story, but rather it exists only to serve the filmmaker and his inflated sense of importance. There should be a picture-in-picture window of Iñárritu whistling and applauding his own work, yelling “Bravo! Bravo I say!” as DiCaprio stumbles around in the snow, so we’re able to pick up on the subtleties of this very significant film.
The Revenant is Iñárritu’s love letter to himself. A poetic and pretentious rehash of Terrence Malick’s The New World (also lensed by Lubezki) spliced with Death Wish, The Revenant will impress those with an affinity for long takes and a disdain for anything resembling substance. The bear attack sequence is terrifying and the imagery is gorgeous, but The Revenant is just another long-winded proclamation from Iñárritu that he’s not in the business of making movies; he’s a filmmaker who makes art, goddammit, and we’re going to suffer for it.