Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu || Produced by: Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, David Kanter, James W. Scotchdopole, Keith Redmon
Screenplay by: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu || Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Brendan Fletcher, Kristoffer Joner, Melaw Nakehk’o, Brad Carter, Lukas Haas
Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, Bryce Dessner || Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki || Edited by: Stephen Mirrione || Country: United States || Language: English, Native American dialects
Running Time: 156 minutes
Much like the film’s actual production, the story and cerebral violence of The Revenant are brutal, uncompromising, and unapologetic. My immediate reaction watching the movie in a crowded theatre on Sunday was that this picture was way too classy (in cinematic terms) for a big-budget, wide-release Hollywood feature. I’m sure its stars’ names, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and perhaps even recent Academy Award winning Birdman (2015) director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, got the dimwitted masses in the door, but I’m also betting that the film itself was far more than most bargained for.
That’s good for me, because The Revenant is exactly what I bargained for. You got frontiersmen and Arikara natives shooting each other in the face with muskets and arrows, Leonardo DiCaprio graphically mauled by a grizzly bear, a French trader rapist who has his balls sliced off by his rape-victim, numerous scalpings, DiCaprio sleeping inside a horse carcass, and finally DiCaprio and Hardy fighting to the death. Sounds about right! Isn’t it nice when a film delivers so spectacularly on the content and tone advertised by its trailers?
It’s strange for two massive, critically acclaimed Hollywood westerns to release almost back-to-back in this day and age, but that’s what we got in The Hateful Eight (TH8; 2015) and this film. Thankfully, both films couldn’t be more different despite both being in the same genre and hitting the standard western tropes. Where as TH8 was full of dark humor, limited to nearly a single location, and structured as a non-linear narrative, The Revenant is a straightforward revenge tale with little comic relief or emotional respite of any kind. Both films are brutally violent, but The Revenant manages to outdo even Quentin Tarantino’s level of graphic intensity. It is an epic western to be reckoned with.
That being said, the standout feature of this film is neither DiCaprio’s strong, silent lead nor Hardy’s memorable, mumbling antagonist, nor even its well choreographed, well edited cinematic violence. The true star of The Revenant is two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, whose dedication to sweeping landscape shots and natural lighting have turned this movie into the best-looking piece of cinema of 2015. As sad as I am to predict fellow phenom cinematographer Roger Deakins’ 13th Oscar nomination (and empty-handed return), I am even more satisfied with the visual prowess of The Revenant. It looks phenomenal. I’m not sure if the plethora of great-looking films this year, including but not limited to Deakins’ work on Sicario (2015) and Lubezki’s here in The Revenant are due to the increasing dynamic range of modern HD cameras, or if filmmakers are simply becoming more inventive. Either way, The Revenant’s glorious cinematography combined with Iñárritu’s insistence on location-shooting makes for one of the finest western landscapes in cinema.
To quote Inarritu: “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of shit.” Now that’s personal sacrifice for the greatness of cinema.
In any case, The Revenant’s high-profile cast, from DiCaprio to Hardy to recent breakout Domhnall Gleeson, are all very good. I could watch Hardy mumble for days in whatever accent he chooses, and Gleeson demonstrates his increasing versatility as a sympathetic leader in this film (in contrast to his Heinrich Himmler impression in The Force Awakens ). DiCaprio gives one of his better performances of his career, though I’d still nominate his role in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) over this one. I applaud him for bracing such brutal filmming conditions, getting down and dirty for his role, as well as performing much of his dialogue in Native American languages. With that on the table, I’m not drooling over his performance like most other critics, nor do I believe he’s the most deserving unappreciated actor when it comes to the Academy Awards — Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, anyone?
My only significant criticism of The Revenant is — surprise, surprise — its length. I have no qualms with gazing at hours worth of Lubezki’s beautiful visuals nor hearing Hardy’s inane rambles, like I said, but at some point the number of times Leo makes camp, gets ambushed, runs away, and then has to perform some sort of grisly survival technique grows repetitive. The first and final acts of the film are spectacular, but scenes in the middle blur together. It’s not a huge complaint, but it’s worth acknowledging.
Altogether, though, The Revenant is a standout western and one of the better films of a standout year. As I’ll point out more in my End-of-the-Year recap, 2015 has been the year of old-school franchises, genres, and filmmaking trends of decades past surging back with a vengeance. I assume the public’s interest in roaming gunslingers remains limited, but if westerns do ever make an official comeback, Alejandro Iñárritu’s Revenant is as fine a benchmark as any for the 21st century. You guys didn’t freeze your asses off for nothing. To those brave souls, I say cheers.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Lubezki’s cinematography and Iñárritu’s choice of locations transform every frame of The Revenant into a gorgeous work of art. Whether the film shows a transition shot, a pulse-pounding action scene, a pan across a frigid landscape, or the opening title sequence, every frame is a painting. DiCaprio, Hardy, and Gleeson give great performances and showcase admirable action-physicality. It’s nice to see yet another $100 million+ R-rated production. I like this film because I’m a history buff and a fan of violence!
— However… these 2.5 hour productions need to end. This film could have been a thoroughbred stallion if Iñárritu was committed to smart editing. Too much of The Revenant’s middle act replays the same scenario. Some of the dream sequences are cheesy or unnecessary.
? You came all this way for your revenge? Well, you go ahead and enjoy it, Glass; it ain’t gonna bring your boy back.
Seeing this in a half hour. Looking forward to it!
It’ll probably be this year’s Best Picture winner, and I’m totally OK with that given how raw, visceral, and badass it is… especially in comparison to, say, Spotlight (*crickets*)…
Haven’t seen Spotlight. It doesn’t interest me outside of the cast. I might take your word on it being a bore.
I can maybe see this winning Best Picture. It was definitely raw like you said. That final fight between Tom and Leo…oh man!
Overall though, it wasn’t completely my type of movie. I appreciated all it’s aspects, but it’s not really for me. It’s a very different film than Birdman. Between the two I gotta say of loved that movie so much more. I just watched it again the other night and forgot how terrific it was. Revenant is still very good in it’s own way though, I can see it winning over many of it’s nominations, but I don’t think it would be my pick for Best Picture. Although I’m not really sure what would be honestly. I think I liked last years nominees a lot more. Whiplash and Birdman just really hit me.
Fair enough, it’s not for everyone, you’re right. I do find it troublesome though when people dismiss great cinematography and/or location-shooting as if it’s a frivolous digital effect. People watch this thing, then say it looks pretty but it went on too long or was too straightforward a plot, and I’m just sitting there with my mouth agape in shock (… at their reaction).
I’ve said this before numerous times on this site: Film is a visual medium. Action has to mean something through its characters, story, and situation, sure, but at the end of the day the screenplay is simply a part of the larger craft of filmmaking. As far as using visuals to tell a story, The Revenant is as good as any, and that’s why I would never recommend something like Spotlight over it. The latter is well acted and tightly written, but visually it’s lazy as fuck IMO, and would’ve been better as a news report or a stage play… and it originally *was* a news report!
I read both your reviews on those movies and will comment more on your site later, but I just can’t ever see myself recommending Spotlight as a good *film,* where as The Revenant I can.
Believe me though, my mouth was open in awe multiple times throughout Revenant. It’s just that by the end of it, I just felt too tired of it all and then a lot of it didn’t stick to me. It’s incredibly beautiful.
And on Spotlight; I do see your point on that it could have been a stage play. But the same could be said for numerous things. 12 Angry Men being a teleplay, to a stage play, and to screen, and that’s continued to be very popular in each of those mediums for almost half a century. Not every movie needs to be anything fancy when it comes to visuals. Spotlight was a very small film, with a very large message. It’s tough to say it’s “visually lazy as fuck” when this would never be a huge emphasis on a movie like this. Using your argument of visuals to support action for a movie that has a ton of action, and for one that has absolutely none: That’s comparing apples to oranges.
I actually really enjoyed it for what it was, and it did what it set out to do. Different films use different techniques and approaches to tell a story. Some movies have a larger emphasis on their script, while others are visuals. I don’t think it’s fair to say that one is more important than the other though, if that’s what you were getting at. Spotlight (regardless of how it resonated with you) is not a lesser “film” to the Revenant because of it just being a different type of film. Or vis-versa.
That’s fair, though I would reiterate that certain types of stories or genres are more inherently cinematic, or easily translatable into a visual medium. What matters is the *execution* of a film’s message, you’re correct, not necessarily the subject matter.
But for my part, I didn’t find Spotlight nearly as interesting or cinematic as many other would-be stage plays or teleplays, e.g. The Social Network, Steve Jobs, The Hateful Eight, or 12 Angry Men, as you mentioned. To me, it seems like Spotlight is leaning on the importance of its material, the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, for its fame and good reviews, rather than the actual craft or execution of that material. It’s message is overshadowing its actual filmmaking.
I definitely see your point. But then again, maybe that safer route for Spotlight is okay in this situation. The subject matter is pretty rough, and I think the fact that everything being so subdued in Spotlight worked in its favor for sure. You bring up far better comparisons there, but with all vastly different subjects and directors to bring their own flavor. For example, Tarantino executes his violence almost in a comedic way. This would never be done to a film like Spotlight.
I think it was more or less the intention for Spotlight to present the importance of its material first. The filmmaking “style” does not need to be the main focus here. And maybe that’s not why you go to the movies, and I totally understand that. I guess I’m just saying that Spotlight is as close to being a documentary, without actually being one. For me personally, I think it should be that way, given the subject matter the film presents to us. But I understand why you wouldn’t have liked that approach. Maybe you would have enjoyed it more being an actual documentary instead.
I believe I would have liked it best as a novel or a nonfiction book, some medium that’s best at describing the internal and using that as a form unto itself. As films are primarily about making the external, the visible, into an art, I don’t think this story was best suited for a feature film.
Many might disagree, but that’s my take on the matter. I’m sure I go overboard on my “film purism” aesthetic. I’d absolutely admit to that.
That’s totally understandable. Speaking as someone who doesn’t really like to read much, and would need strong convincing to watch a documentary…that’s probably precisely why I’m more than okay with a movie like this working in the one medium I’m always invested in. Hell, I will even admit that I would never purchase and read a comic book. But I LOVE comic book movies.