Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s frontier epic, The Revenant, follows Hugh Glass, a nineteenth-century fur trapper and frontiersman. Although the movie is inspired by true events, some of the developments deviate from history. Despite the use of creative license, viewers are in for an intense and ultimately unforgettable experience.
The Revenant’s fierce pace starts from the onset. The first tranquil moments at the beginning of the movie are short-lived and violence and chaos persist until the end. As such, the tone is centered on survival, betrayal, desperation, and revenge. The word “revenant” is defined as an individual who has returned, particularly from the dead.
Leonardo DiCaprio hits his performance as Hugh Glass out of the park. Glass’ main arc really picks up speed after the bear attack sequence. Not only did the mauling leave Glass mangled and near death, but it renders him effectively mute as his throat is slashed by the bear. This angle plays into DiCaprio’s acting.
It is important to note that acting is not necessarily reliant solely on dialogue. Thus DiCaprio’s mastery of the verisimilar code, an acting style that focuses on realism and is influenced by Stanislavsky and “The Method,” accentuates his performance. The use of nonverbal communication techniques, particularly kinesics, communication through body language and movement, and proxemics, communication through physical space, are noteworthy. Some have criticized DiCaprio and his award success for the role by claiming that he did more suffering instead of acting. However, the foundations of acting and branches of nonverbal communication easily refute such critiques.
The supporting cast consists of Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Forrest Goodluck. All of these actors provide strong performances that help round out the cast. Hardy’s character is immediately despicable. From his first several scenes, it became clear that his character was the antagonist and a loathsome one at that. This is not to criticize Hardy’s performance, rather it reinforces it. The character is deplorable, but Hardy’s acting is top-notch. Gleeson, Poulter, and Goodluck all provide great performances which aid in projecting the humanity of the story’s characters.
Gleeson’s character in particular reminds us that military personnel during that time did not necessarily know the “ins and outs” of frontier life -- trapping, tracking, pathfinding, etc. Some may perceive this as a weakness, but I think it makes his character more true-to-life.
Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is so stunning, that scene after scene, I was left wishing the shots were available as wallpapers for my computer and cell phone. The richness of the camera’s framing really helped in suspending my disbelief and made me feel that I was in the wilderness alongside Glass, especially with the tight shots.
Lubezki did something twice in this movie that I do not think I have seen in any other film. Twice he allowed DiCaprio to exhale and fog the camera lens. Both instances were effective in making the viewer feel immersed in Glass’ struggle. In the first instance, the foggy lens was creatively transitioned to an aerial shot in the clouds. From my perspective, this is a stand-out moment in cinematography and editing.
The movie’s CGI is great overall. Because so much of the film was shot on location, it made it hard to discern between CG and practical effects. However, there were a few instances where the CGI was evident. The scene with the bison felt like the CGI could have been better refined. I am unsure if the avalanche scene was CGI, it seemed like it, but that could have also used some more improvement. If it was real, then hats off to the cast and crew having been that close to an actual avalanche!
Iñárritu does a great job directing the film. Considering the issues with production schedules and budgeting, credit goes to him and the production team and studio support for seeing the project through to completion. Iñárritu’s management of the project is evident as none of the extraneous production situations manifested themselves into the final film. He also does not sugar-coat or romanticize frontier living, something often done with western films. The brutality in The Revenant is intense and visceral and may be uncomfortable for some.
The story is not predictable. There were several instances where I thought I knew where it was going or what was going to happen, but I was glad when my prognostications were wrong; this made The Revenant feel increasingly fresh. It would have been nice to have had some aspects better explained at the beginning of the movie. The Sioux and Pawnee could have been illuminated more clearly – for a large portion of the movie it was hard to discern which Native American tribe was looking for a kidnapped daughter. Some of the story of the fur trapping and the frontiersmen's relationship with Gleeson’s character may have benefited from additional exploration.
Shortly after the bear scene, I became worried that issues with Glass’ healing, specifically the likelihood of infection, would be overlooked. It was a relief to see that issued be addressed, which was consistent with the realistic tone. The film's overall approach to Glass was refreshing because he was not portrayed as a superhero or demi-god. Nevertheless, there were some sequences which had me wondering how much injury and hardship one human could take.
Overall, The Revenant is an incredibly raw, intense, and numbing experience. People in my theater were literally sitting on the edge of their seats. My eyes were riveted to the screen for nearly the entire movie. This film will undoubtedly leave you with an increased understanding of the difficulty and crudeness of life on the American frontier. There are only a handful of films relating to frontiersmen, so for those interested in that time frame of history, or those interested in nonverbal and verisimilar acting, The Revenant is sure to not disappoint.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Production: Regency Enterprises; RatPac Entertainment; New Regency Pictures; Anonymous Content; M Productions; Appian Way; Hong Kong Alpha Motion Picutres Co.; Catchplay; Monarchy Enterprises S.a.r.l.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Producer: Steve Golin; Alejandro G. Iñárritu; James W. Skotchdopole
Screenwriter: Mark L. Smith; Alejandro G. Iñárritu (screenplay); Michael Punke (based in part on the novel by)
Director of Photography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Editor: Stephen Mirrione
Casting Director: Francine Maisler
Art Director: Laurel Bergman
Production Designer: Jack Fisk
Music: Carsten Nicolai (as Alva Noto); Ryuichi Sakamoto (as Ryûichi Sakamoto)
Visual Effects: Kunal Ghosh Dastider (senior effects technical director, ILM); Tim Chrismer (external assistant technical director, ILM); Virender Dass (matchmove and layout technical director, ILM)
Costume Designer: Jacqueline West
Budget: ca. $135,000,000
Release Date: January 8, 2016 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: ARRIRAW; Digital Intermediate; Panavision; Redcode RAW
Copyright Holder: Regency Entertainment (USA), Inc. and Revenant LLC (USA only); Monarchy Enterprises S.a.r.l. and Revenant LLC (all other locations)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio; Tom Hardy; Domhnall Gleeson; Will Poulter; Forrest Goodluck; Paul Anderson; Kristoffer Joer; Joshua Burge; Duane Howard; Melaw Nekahk’o; Fabrice Adde; Arthur RedCloud [sic]; Christopher Rosamond; Robert Moloney; Lukas Haas; Brendan Fletcher; Tyson Wood; McCaleb Burnett; Anthony Starlight; Grace Dove; Isaiah Tootoosis; Haysam Kadri
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Rating: R; Descriptors: Strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language, and brief nudity.
Running Time: 2 hours and 36 minutes (156 mins.)