Leonardo DiCaprio battles the elements – and a ferocious bear – in this fierce, elemental western from 'Birdman' director Alejandro González Iñárritu
After the playful, urban and contemporary humour of the Oscar-winning ‘Birdman’, this bleak-faced 1820s-set frontier western sees Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu return to the darker worldview of his earlier films like ‘Babel’ and ‘21 Grams’.
Based on a 2002 Michael Punke novel about real-life folk hero Hugh Glass, ‘The Revenant’ stars Leonardo DiCaprio (gruff, committed, unreadable) as a fur trapper and frontiersman left for dead by his colleagues in a wintry American landscape after he is viciously shredded by a grizzly bear. Glass survives, and he hauls his damaged body through snow, across rivers, up rocks and over plains, driven by revenge. In his sights is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, savage with a dash of black humour), the man responsible for abandoning him to die and for forcing him to watch as his young son (of mixed-race parentage) is murdered in front of his eyes.
So, no, it’s not a happy tale. But what survives from ‘Birdman’ is a compelling, forward-moving, simple approach to storytelling that grips us through stretches of silence and misery. The film's relentlessness itself becomes magnetic. There are times when 'The Revenant' feels like one long and unforgiving act of sadism, mostly directed at its lead character, but occasionally at us (a warning: the film is long, the dialogue is minimal and the violence is sharp). There are moments, too, that feel like parodies of awards-hungry acting, such as when we see DiCaprio chomping on raw animal organs or climbing into the steaming carcass of a dead horse.
But what makes this more than just a punishing, fearful, expertly crafted thriller focused on one man’s endurance is heavily down to Emmanuel Lubezki’s attractive, thoughtful photography. Lubezki’s work will be familiar to viewers of Terrence Malick’s recent films (including ‘The Tree of Life’) for the timeless sense of soulfulness that he can lend to a landscape. Here, that same visual style, coupled with the film’s concern for the Native American experience and its compassion for the father-child bond, makes ‘The Revenant’ not just gruelling, but often gorgeous and quietly spiritual.
Cast and crew