When I look back at my childhood reading materials, the books I remember most vividly were all survival stories. While my girlfriends giggled over Judy Blume novels (of which I admittedly have a few favorites), I was enamored with books like The Hatchet or The Cay. These tales excited my imagination and left me in dizzy with wonder of what it would be like to survive in the uncivilized world. Thus, when I learned that a well-funded and fabulously cast survival epic was coming out, I was excited. Adding more anticipation was the fact that Alejandro G. Iñárritu, a gutsy filmmaker responsible for several masterpieces, such as Birdman and Amores Perros, was at the helm.
Now, I want to mention that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this film twice and that’s important because I truly believe that only great movies can stand up to multiple viewings. I found that upon my second time around, the film grew more powerful and transcended into an absolutely tremendous work of art.
My favorite aspect is the cinematography, aided greatly by the breathtaking locations in which the movie was filmed. Iñárritu, who isn’t shy with creative camera work, brings in his signature use of extensive and uninterrupted long shots into play. These long shots aren’t simple or linear, either. They are dynamic and non-static, smoothly offering the audience amazing perspective of the harrowing tale that unfolds on the screen. This is truly Iñárritu’s strongest suit, giving all his movies a flow and rhythm that allow you to be hypnotized and absorbed by the unique journey of the camera. Here, even the establishing wide shots are done with a unique flair. You find yourself transported into the story, as a silent and intimate witness to the brutal tale. Adding to this talented dance of the camera, is the fact that Iñárritu did not use artificial lighting during filming.
The two lead actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy shine brilliantly in their roles, each with their own strengths. DiCaprio takes up a majority of the screen time and you can’t help but wonder how he endured filming this movie. The man has got some low hangers in my book, because it takes a massive set of balls to take on a role like this. Describing his work as physically strenuous is an understatement, and yet, even when you know his body must be SCREAMING in protest, he stays flawlessly in character and maintains perfect intention at every moment. The audience may wince, but this kick-ass actor holds his own, and one must give him credit for that alone. He is truly one of the greats of our time.
Hardy is a slightly different story, though no less talented and effective. Here is a chameleon of a man, a trait of those rare method actors who really shine through the technique. His voice, minute gestures, and charisma transform him entirely, and for the first few minutes of the film, I really struggled to identify him among the actors. It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy that gave us Max in Mad Max: Fury Road, or Forrest Bondurant in Lawless. In The Revenant, Hardy offers us John Fitzgerald, a broken man primed through fear and greed for villainy. He’s sensational!
The movie is long, yet well-paced and engaging. Psychologically, it’s thrilling and unrelenting, taking the audience through Glass’s harrowing journey of fear, pain, anger, nostalgia, and ultimately vengeance. This movie contains the stuff of nightmares and yet it also holds you enraptured in the utter beauty of nature. You can’t look away, even if you flinch. You want to scream in anger and frustration for our brave hero as life deals him the kind of blows that would fell most other men. Due to Iñárritu’s brilliant filmmaking, there is never a moment where you disconnect from the story. The movie opens quickly, moving into an intense action sequence within the first few minutes, and investing the audience almost effortlessly. All the pieces come together beautifully and seamlessly. I only lament the fact that there are a few scenes where the CGI is obvious, blaring against the magnificent starkness of natural light and nature itself. It’s forgiven quickly by the strength of all the other parts of this work of art. I just hate knowing that these kinds of effects don’t age well and will become a flaw in the film years down the road.
The Revenant is a tremendous film, moving the audience through an unforgiving tale of survival. It’s poetry in motion, a masterpiece in my humble opinion. Tragic and gorgeous, it is a fabulous example of the power of cinema as the ultimate story-telling medium. Be sure to catch it in theaters and support this standard of filmmaking. It raises the bar and deserves your patronage. Thank you, Iñárritu, for a phenomenal experience. I look forward to my next viewing.
Thanks for reading,
-Diva Del Mar