"I'm not afraid to die anymore. I've done it already."
After watching ‘The Revenant’ I am left with no doubt that Alejandro Inarritu is the finest filmmaker working today. There are legends like Spielberg and Scorsese who are still going strong, current favourites like Fincher and the Coens who equally brilliant, but in terms of a director who is continually pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, ‘The Revenant’ proves that Inarritu is currently the master of the art.
In 1823, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a fur trapping expedition into the American Midwest but the group are attacked by American Natives and matters only get worse when Glass is assaulted by a bear and left for dead by one of his partners Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).
So back to Inarritu, maybe it’s because I only recently got around to watching ‘Babel’ as well (overdue viewing I know) or perhaps it was based more on my continuing love of ‘Birdman’ but I just feel like ‘The Revenant’ cements his position as the most innovative and creative director working today. Tests of endurance in cinema have rarely felt as powerful, as poignant or as epic as the spectacle Inarritu delivers here. It is a relief that this film is as magnificent as it is due to how wild reports were coming in that the director of ‘Birdman’ had gone wild on some kind of disaster project in the frozen north, exceeding his budget, ruining his equipment and endangering his actors. Had the success gone to his head, was he determined to see this supposedly doomed project through to the end, was he ignoring all logical advice? If he did ignore it then can I say this to Inarritu, never listen to logical advice again.
It is an astonishing experience, like ‘Birdman’ before it ‘The Revenant’ is utterly cinematic and transports you to another place and time so effectively that more than once I felt myself growing colder as I watched DiCaprio’s miniscule figure battling against the full force of nature. It’s almost exhausting to watch it, maybe not as exhausting as trekking across the wilderness after being savaged by a bear, but still rather tiring. Right from the opening scene you are plunged into a world of such astonishing beauty and such gruelling circumstance as we are fully submerged into a vicious battle between the fur trappers and a group of Native Americans. I didn’t just feel like I was watching that scene, I was in it, completely entranced by the multiple layers of texture and the sheer captivation of the scene. It left me awestruck within the first ten minutes.
Do not think that this film gives away its party piece at once though, there are multiple occasions in which I could not comprehend how they achieved the hots they obtained, I was left in utter disbelief and not only that, but by being shot with strictly natural lighting, Emmanuel Lubezki achieved a feat of cinematography that is almost unparalleled (sorry Roger Deakens). Every hint of warmth from a glimmer of sunlight to an ember of fire ignites the tiniest hope of salvation regardless of how dire the situation.
But for every moment of natural beauty that permeates this film, there is one of disturbing brutality to contrast it. These moments of brutality come in the form of man against nature and man against man. A majority of the film does consist of Glass’ journey through the wilderness to seek revenge and the unbroken nature of them once again immerses you within the moment as the wasteland just seems to crawl on forever, becoming one massive and never-ending expanse. But this unbroken technique works even better for moments of intensity such as the bear attack which is captured in stunning savagery. At times it becomes slightly surreal as Glass teeters on the verge of death and these sequences are almost as haunting as the world he faces when he returns to reality.
There are great supporting turns from Domhnall Gleeson (who has had an incredible 2015 with ‘Ex Machina’, ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘Brooklyn’ which I hear is great) and Tom Hardy who is doing his usual thing of turning everything up to eleven and somehow still making it seem menacing rather than comical. But make no mistake, this is Leo’s movie. He commits himself to this role completely with his physical performance standing as one of his best with every moment there is a sense of struggle and desperation. His spirit remains enduring throughout, with a passion and ferocity that one can only marvel at, it is utterly hypnotic.
‘The Revenant’ is a film of searing beauty, astonishing brutality and enthralling humanity.