What is a revenant? A Protestant minister in training? A religious insect? Whatever it means, it has now entered our vocabulary, at least until The Revenant leaves cinemas. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s revenge epic brings Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name to the big screen in a typhoon of scalped heads and treacherous hunters. Based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a nineteenth century fur trapper, most talk leading up to its release revolved around the extent to which Leonardo DiCaprio and a bear bond. If intimate relations with a grizzly don’t seal his Oscar, then DiCaprio may well have to steal one.
DiCaprio (Shutter Island, Inception) plays Glass, a member of a troupe of trappers who collect animal pelts. Tom Hardy (Legend, Bronson) plays John Fitzgerald, the primary source of villainy who suffers from Jeff Bridges Syndrome, which is an inability to talk properly. Fitzgerald’s incoherence frustrates, but it adds to his overall menace, his accent one of many impressive impersonations across the cast.
Due to considerable tensions between rival trappers and American Indians, everyone in Glass’ group, even Captain Andrew Henry, played by the ever-excellent Domnhall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Brooklyn) serves their own material interests. The stunning opening battle between Arikara Indians and Henry’s battle-ready men is a misleadingly active start for a film about one man’s struggle for retribution.
There is a very prominent lack of quality control around The Revenant’s middle section, making it sag due to repetitive footage. The formula is as follows: sun comes up, blizzard engulfs Glass, Glass teeters on the edge of death, stumbles across the land, collapses in a heap, wakes up and starts again. It’s endurance porn for fitness extremists. Totalitarian workout regimes will be inspired by this film.
I’m not suggesting an Uber cab should’ve taken Glass to Hardy, but if Iñárritu shaved off twenty minutes, The Revenant would’ve been a far crisper affair. Instead, a lot of the suspense created in the white heat of the opening conflict disappears after the group scatters and the endurance porn formula begins in earnest.
DiCaprio the Man-Tank
Glass resembles a nineteenth century Bear Grylls, a resilient man-tank battling elements trying to deny him revenge. His traumatic past slows him down almost as much as the harsh conditions. Beautifully edited flashbacks characterise Glass as a man more dead than alive due to his inability to overcome previous tragedies. Love and hatred propel him over some of the most stunning scenery the world has to offer.
Cinematography is, as advertised, stunning. Iñárritu’s insistence on recording with only natural light brings the majesty of Canadian and Argentinian landscapes to Britain intact. Long shots that graced 2014’s Birdman act as PR for the majestic location in all its bleak, wintry glory.
Luckily, Iñárritu’s allergy to cuts and fades has abated, allowing audiences to appreciate each shot in its own right. Continuous footage worked in Birdman because it expressed Michael Keaton’s monotonous party-in-a-rut career. Glass’s torturous pursuit of Fitzgeralds is necessarily fragmented to reflect his shattered emotional state. It is also a thoroughly exhausting watch that demands emotional investment at every broken rib.
Search and Cause
What links the characters is a search for something, be it material gain or family reunification. Seeing how Native Americans and white settlers interact is fascinating: mutual resentment preserves icy relationships held together by trade and fear of retribution. Glass and his son Hawk, played by Forrest Goodluck who’s making his big screen debut, are the flicker of unity in an otherwise tribally fractured land.
For better and worse, I have never had a cinematic experience quite like this one. The pulsating start and climactic end are let down by a flabby middle. Nevertheless, even in the film’s slowest moments, there’s enough drama, enough tension, to keep eyes agape and nails chewed. Exhausting to watch, The Revenant is a film that should only be watched once for full emotional impact. It’s too draining to sit through more than once, suggesting less is certainly more. The Revenant’s epic feel comes from its bombastic length, which is an important part of the director’s vision. Iñárritu’s artistic fanaticism almost certainly reduced DiCaprio’s life-span by several years, but it’ll will be worth it if he is united with his estranged friend Oscar.[video:https://youtu.be/LoebZZ8K5N0]
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