The Revenant has the viscera of a Braveheart or a Gangs of New York, with the now familiar touch of director Alejandro G. Inarritu. His style shows through with an even stronger flourish than that of his previous film Birdman, as it links itself more naturally with the thematic elements that are in play in the film.
The film centers on Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a hunter on a fur trading expedition who seeks vengeance after becoming severely wounded and left for dead in the 19th century wilderness.
The only true way to describe this film is to call it hyper-realism. The characters live in a state of nature, where there is a distinct lack of delineation between human and animal.
The technical choices in the film mirror this blurred line. Lighting is natural, diluting the cinematic nature of the film while still maintaining the majesty of the snowy landscape.
Yet, the film is clearly cinematic. The shot structure is such that it pits man into nature with little preference given to one over the other. In early, pivotal scenes, close ups are abandoned for the sake of reality. As Glass is found wounded, perhaps mortally, the shot does not cut straight to his face, but instead pushes in slowly on the developing scene, leaving Glass as another casualty of the callous wilderness.
Eventually, this shot structure balances out to a more conventional shot scale selection, but pivotal moments remain ambiguous in terms of humanity.
This is the brilliance of The Revenant. It is, at its core, nothing more than a survival story. In this regard, it is rather tedious, but it never feels that way. The film does not draw the viewer in because of a want to see good prevail, per se. Instead, it draws the viewer in with its fervent desire to depict a world that sacrifices humanity for base instincts.
This sacrifice may leave some viewers numb or dissociated, perhaps even bored. But no one can deny that the moments inbetween this state of nature are genius in their simplicity. This is where the camera slows to static. This is where human civilization and its place in nature is represented. And it is represented by the otherwise banal satisfaction of differing people sharing the joy of catching snowflakes on the tongue.
Sure, the film has its faults. Tom Hardy’s dialogue is all but imperceptible throughout. Granted this adds to the realism, it can come through as a nagging issue all the same.
Certain elements, namely the score, take away from the realism that makes this film a piece of art. It rarely comes in with full force, but when it does it feels out of place, regardless of its tonal beauty.
DiCaprio plays his largely mute role fluently, his nonverbal acting stealing the show from scene to scene. Particularly in the third act, his facial expressions are picturesque in their complexity.
The Revenant oozes with grisly fury and bare bones realism. It is unrelenting, perhaps too much for some, but it wraps its merciless survival drama in a cinematic style that mimics the thematic intentions. That is good enough for art, in my opinion.
The Revenant can be found on Amazon Video to rent or buy here.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen The Revenant? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)