Duration 156 mins
Review: Alex Griffin
Simultaneously brutal and beautiful, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s vision is wild magic.
The Revenant is cinema that forces you physically into its landscape. It is viscerally immersive to the point where you feel the ice cold of the stark wilderness seeping into your bones.
From the moment it begins - as the camera pans around in a disorientating continuous sweep - we are thrust into the trees and into the story, an endurance epic of survival and revenge.
Adapted from Michael Punke’s 2002 novel, The Revenant accounts the true tale of nineteenth century fur trapper Hugh Glass, who (literally) claws his way through the harsh American interior in pursuit of just reprisal.
Iñárritu is known for pushing his subjects to edge. Birdman, like Aronovsky’s Black Swan sees the protagonist propelled to breaking point and then further beyond, into some kind of frenzied supernatural dynamism. Here, although the method might be the same, the effect is something quite different.
It's a feeling of being completely exposed - stripped mercilessly and thrown to the elemental power of the natural world. It's a savage world but it's also beautiful. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki conjures up a vision that's sheer primal splendour, fierce and electrifying in its vastness. Crucially, this is achieved in a fairly understated way. Shot using only natural light, Lubezki lets the landscape work for itself, without embellishment. Even the recurring dream sequences feel starkly cold, which only increases the ethereal power.
There's a pure rawness that forces its way through every part of the film. Dicaprio is pushed to the limits of human endurance, through relentless cold and excruciating pain (you can feel every piercing tearing of flesh in the jaw-droppingly gruesome bear mauling scene). He’s flanked by solid supporting performances from Will Poulter and Domhall Gleeson who bring a degree of humanity. Elsewhere Tom Hardy provides another stellar turn as the embodiment of snide malice.
The Revenant is visual filmaking at its most effective. Not since Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans has a film so powerfully showcased the American wilderness. Crucially, Iñárritu lets the landscape drive through every aspect of the piece, turning DiCaprio into a force of nature, the avenging fury who (as with Luezki’s previous triumph Gravity) will fight to survive whatever the universe throws at him. Its an uncompromisingly stunning piece that reminds us that it’s only when we expose ourselves over and over to the threat of annihilation, can that which is indestructible in us be truly found.