The Revenant Movie Review

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Revenant (2015)
The Revenant Movie Review

The Revenant falls into the same category as Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" and Spielberg's "Schindler's List" for me, in the essence of being a terrific movie but not something I think I can sit through a second time. In all these movies there are brutal sequences that cause emotional stress and disgust just watching because it is so REAL and GRIPPING. To think that events in these movies actually happened or that they could very well happen is too much for me to think about. Not to say that I did not enjoy this film thoroughly.

The Revenant is a technical masterpiece that left me wondering "How the hell did they do that?" after many scenes and sequences. With beautiful cinematography and adroit camera movement this film is a visual magnum opus. It is apparent that the great minds that put forth this film are none other than the same ones that brought us Birdman: Lubezki and Inarritu. There are many long shots without cuts that are sprinkled throughout the film that add a sense of sophistication to it with the added bonus of predominantly location based shooting and natural lighting for the film , that can even make a novice film watcher raise an eyebrow at its complexity.

The camera work is not the only noteworthy aspect of the film; The actors did a superb job executing their rolls. Many are raving about DiCaprio's performance but I was more of a fan of Hardy's brutal and gritty character Fitzgerald. Granted, half the words that came out of his mouth were unintelligible but he left no doubt in my mind that he was fully devoted to his role and bringing Fitzgerald alive instead of just Hardy playing a character named Fitzgerald. He was simply amazing.

With all this said, there are still flaws in the film. At some points it was dragging on and moving too slow. It gave the impression that the film itself was cocky and wanted to show off all of its beautiful scenery and camera work too much. Then there was the "he shouldn't be alive" situations. Hugh Glass was a real guy that really did survive a bear mauling but in the film they make this guy practically immortal. There were too many instances where I was thinking "he should be dead three times over right now, for me to enjoy the film as much I should have.

The Revenant Movie Review

I went to see "The Revenant" on the day that it was nominated for 12 Oscars, which certainly sets the expectation that it is going to be good – and it is. But I saw it described by DiCaprio as an "epic art-house western" and that's a good description. In the same way that Iñárritu's "Birdman" (this time last year) was unarguably a brilliant but not very mainstream film, so I think the Oscar buzz will attract a big audience to this movie who may find it a struggle to really enjoy. Because it is bleak… unremittingly bleak, in terms of the landscape, the weather and the motives of the characters. It is also extremely violent but, unlike "The Hateful Eight" (another film I saw this week that was unremittingly bleak) the violence is much more gritty, realistic and visceral making the drama a lot more compelling.
The Revenant Movie Review

DiCaprio plays "Hugh Glass", an historical figure who was a legendary fur-trapper in the early 1800's and the central figure in this bear-related yarn. Although the story has been re-embroidered over the years, the 'facts' align with the film's basic story (there's a good "Daily Telegraph" article outlining this - see the link on

Attacked and pursuing by local natives, Glass's party is striking across woodland when he is viciously attacked by a 500lb Grizzly bear. Although appearing mortally wounded, he is a highly respected individual and so is stretchered up by his boss Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). Unable to proceed further, Henry pays for the mercenary John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) to stay with him, together with his half-Pawnee son Hawk and friend Bridger (Will Poulter), to die in peace. Predictably, Fitzgerald is not to be trusted, and Glass is abandoned in a shallow grave. If this is not enough, for other reasons we won't go into, Glass has even less inclination to keep his fellow trapper on his Christmas card list. Thus is set up a classic revenge movie, with Glass determined to stay alive to enact that revenge despite the enormous odds stacked against him.

This is surely DiCaprio's year for his elusive Oscar as he turns in a cripplingly painful performance. It is clear that the suffering on screen is not all acting – it cannot be, given the inhospitable conditions in which the crew were filming (in Canada and Argentina). As examples he had to eat raw bison liver as well as suffering a much discussed Han "I thought they smelled bad on the outside" Solo moment. Despite having very few lines to deliver, DiCaprio is on screen for 90% of the time, and it is a bravura performance.

Tom Hardy – also Oscar nominated – is also impressive as the villain of the piece, although for most of the time his lines might have well been delivered through his Bain mask for the sense they made. He is an inveterate mumbler.

Domhnall Gleeson's performance is also compelling, adding a degree of goodness and compassion to the film that was so missing from "The Hateful 8". (Gleeson is surely vying this year with Ben Whishaw for the busiest mainstream film appearances after this, "Ex Machina", "Brooklyn" and "Star Wars"). Finally Will Poulter gets a chance to shine in an A-grade mainstream dramatic movie and he well and truly makes that grade.

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu has to be commended for eschewing the use of green screens, insisting on live performances and in natural light to boot. Stylistically (and indeed story-wise) the film has many parallels with "Gladiator", with its effective and artistically constructed dream sequences. But the film is not without special effects, and these are phenomenal, most incredibly delivered during the relentless and gruelling bear attack scene: a seamless blend of live animal work and effects that make it horrifically believable.

There is also some fantastic camera work (by Emmanuel Lubezki) of the "how the hell did they do that variety". Recalling his work in "Birdman" it's challenging to do single tracking shots of people walking through buildings. To do these same tracking shots during a pitched battle scene is just phenomenal. During one scene in this harrowing sequence at the film's start, the camera is on the ground filming a native galloping towards a victim, then the camera is seamlessly filming the rider as he gallops away. Astonishing.

The only area I really didn't care for was the music, by Carsten Nicolai and Ryuichi Sakamoto. A combination of droning strings and (later) some whiny "Ligeti-style" elements, it was in turns intrusive, gloomy and annoying. Music should largely stay in the background to set the mood. This didn't.

Overall, this is a masterful film, but it is a slog and not a feel-good film to sit through. It also has significant violence which might not suit all viewers, with the final confrontation in particular being one of the most visceral fight scenes I've seen in years.

By the way (I had to look it up) the definition of "revenant" is:


1. a person who returns

2. a person who returns as a spirit after death; ghost.

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