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The Revenant – film review

February 2, 2016

THE REVENANT

Despite flawless technique, intense and bloody survival quest oddly unaffecting.

Reviewed on Sunday 31st January 2016

the revenant dicaprio as glass

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith & Alejandro González Iñárritu, based in part on the novel by Michael Punke. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson. Running time: 156 mins.

Hugh Glass, an 1820s frontiersman, survives being seriously mauled by a Grizzly Bear, only to be left for dead by his own hunting party. Against all odds, Glass struggles for survival against man and nature in order to exact revenge on those     who left him to die.

Inspired by real life events which allegedly took place in the South Dakota wilds,   The Revenant is a breathtakingly beautiful and epic tale of revenge-fuelled survival. Oscar-winning helmer Iñárritu’s signature lengthy and highly-choreographed steadicam shots are very much in evidence here (particularly impressive during the initial Indian attack sequence), resulting in a hugely effective immersive quality. Equally as immersive is the ambient sound design (supervised by Randy Thom) which, from the drip drip of thawing snow to the whisper of wind in the trees, does much to fully envelope us within the natural wilderness depicted on the screen. And the imposing majesty of the Canadian wilderness itself (standing in for South Dakota) is undoubtedly the film’s major drawcard. The gorgeous digital cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) utilizes available light to great effect, adding enormously to the overall realism of the piece, while the production design by Jack Fisk (There Will Be Blood) also adds greatly to the authenticity of     the period setting.

The film is alarmingly violent at times, with the brutality and suffering endured by Glass plainly felt thanks to DiCaprio’s profoundly convincing performance (Di Caprio’s character spends much of the film unable to speak due to his injuries). And the always watchable Tom Hardy is suitably meanacing here as Glass’ nemesis and so easy to despise.

The screenplay by Mark L. Smith (Vacancy, The Hole) does tend to lose focus and meander somewhat in the second half; losing momentum towards the end. And coming out of The Revenant, I was reminded of just how oddly unfulfilling revenge stories ultimately are; as vengeance really is nothing more than a pointless and destructive motivation which can achieve no positive outcome and, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character comes to realize – the pursuit of, and successful satiating of, vengeance ultimately does little to assuage the deeply-felt personal loss which triggered it in the first place. And so The Revenant takes its place alongside Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and George Miller’s original Mad Max as prime examples of this strange emotional disconnect which tends to occur with movies featuring lead characters motivated by revenge. And judging by the downbeat reaction of the audience at the screening I attended, I wasn’t alone in feeling a sense of gloomy deflation as we shuffled out of the theater. Perhaps if this all-pervading aspect of revenge being Glass’ primary motivation weren’t laid on so thick, and it were purely his desire to survive for the sake of surviving (or of you want to go full Hollywood; his desire to reconnect with loved ones back home) – then I can imagine at least some sense of triumph and fanfare as the credits rolled; something which is unnervingly conspicuous by its absence here.

Despite this disappointing feeling of post-viewing indifference to the film, The Revenant is still viscerally compelling, beautiful and intense – an impressively immersive big screen experience; if ultimately and frustratingly unaffecting.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, January 31st 2016.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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3 Comments
  1. Nice review, Greg, and by and large I agree. “The Revenant” is a powerhouse of filmmaking that impressed me on every level – technical, performance, truly gorgeous cinematography – except the emotional. For all its immersive grandeur, I was always conscious I was watching a film, and can’t put my finger on why. I’m not convinced it’s the revenge theme per se that’s the problem. “Gladiator” hits all my emotional buttons, for example. But then Maximus is a tragic hero, rather than a mere survivor. Although I wouldn’t use the word “mere” to describe any aspect of “The Revenant”!

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers, Graham. Nice to know I wasn’t alone in feeling this way about The Revenant. 🙂

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