"The Revenant" (2015) - Rated R / Runtime: 151 minutes
Review by JJ Mortimer
Dreary, grisly, yet visually stimulating, The Revenant is a showcase of premier film makers working at the pinnacle of their careers, eliciting a decades-defining performance from Leonardo DiCaprio in what very well may be the most realistic display of Frontier survival in contemporary film history.
The Revenant is a damn fine motion picture, though it will not be everyone's cup of joe. It is like a beautiful painting of trees and snow, with dismembered bodies and scenes of carnage strewn about. The film is relentlessly violent and disturbing; it is blood and guts amidst a tapestry of gorgeous winter landscapes. But what sets this film apart from a Terrance Malick film (known for seemingly poetic yet narrative-less films) is that Oscar-winning director Alejandro Inarritu focuses this piece on character, hinging on the power of a mostly-dialogue-less and dedicated performance by Leonardo DiCaprio (who is put through the physical ringer), not to mention an awesome villainous supporting performance from Tom Hardy.
The film centers around early 1800s frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who is hired to guide a fur trading expedition. After a truly horrifying bear mauling scene that makes 1997s The Edge look like a Disney film, he is left for dead by the group and fights for his survival - and revenge - in the unforgiving wilderness. The film is truly a wonder to look at (shot once again by Oscar-winning Inarritu collaborator Emanuel Lubezki) with many long, extended shots centered on the natural beauty of the forests and snowy vistas, with every intent on making the viewer feel the harsh coldness that Glass experiences. I can't remember a film that made me actually feel cold despite being in a warm movie theater auditorium. What's most impressive about the film (other than Leo's performance) are the long takes of brutal, bloody action that must have been mind-boggling to choreograph.
The only problems that I may see some people having with the movie is in its graphic violence and an expectation in this being a grand epic adventure, which it is not. This is a survival and revenge film at heart that centers mainly on one character, and scenes are up front and close to him with much of the action being displayed in close proximity like a documentary camera man standing by a reporter as he views the action.
The musical score is minimalist and beautiful, the acting is powerful and damn near perfect, and the cinematography is an art form all in its own. Writing a review doesn't do the film justice. This is a film to sit down and ponder in discussion, and truly a film to absorb and experience on the big screen. If you would go to an art museum to see paintings in their natural habitat instead of in a magazine, then The Revenant should be seen on the big screen and not set aside to be seen on a television. I was blown away.
Half way through watching the film, I got the initial impression that I could play this movie in the background many times over in the future as I was doing something else that required more attentionThere's an ethereal quality to the film that doesn't require you to focus on the little details of the story, but allows you to experience the broad, environmental nature of the action and the harsh, unforgiving wilderness much akin to absorbing a viewing of a fine painting. And at over two-and-a-half hours, the film doesn't feel droll and lifeless. It flows, and encompasses your senses in every way a film truly can.