Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: The Revenant

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's intense and brutal sort-of western "The Revenant" gives new meaning to revenge being a dish best served cold as Leonardo DiCaprio's Hugh Glass, who gets my vote for the most physically tormented cinematic character in recent memory, gets beaten and battered against the frigid backdrops of the Dakota territory.

The film is a pretty basic revenge story, but one in which nearly every frame is filled with jaw dropping visual wonderment. It's without a doubt the most gorgeously filmed picture of the year and one of the all-around best.

Melding together such unlikely bedfellows as the visual style of Terrence Malick, the man vs. nature elements of Werner Herzog and the body horror of David Cronenberg, "The Revenant" is a visual feast that's often difficult to watch, due to the agonizing violence perpetrated against DiCaprio's body by bears, falls off cliffs, puncture wounds made by knives, waterfalls and cinders used to heal ripped flesh. Other characters are scalped, stabbed, have their throats pierced by arrows, hanged and lose fingers. It's one of the year's most violent films, but whereas most Hollywood pictures use stylized violence and cartoonish gun play, every gouge in Inarritu's film is realistically rendered.

Glass's story is a true one that has already been told in 1971's "Man in the Wilderness," but is relayed much more viscerally here. The frontiersman and fur trapper leads a group of men through South Dakota in the early 1820s, where they are attacked by Native Americans and forced to leave their furs behind, the remaining men first trekking downriver in a boat before hoofing it on foot.

While out scouting, Glass is mauled by a bear in one of the most frightening sequences you'll likely ever see that is impressive due to both its flawless special effects and one-take shot without edits or cuts. As far as I'm aware, there's nothing else quite like it in the history of film.

Glass's humane captain (Domhnall Gleeson) believes the trapper is a goner, so he pays a few men - including Glass's Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), a novice named Bridger (Will Poulter) and a man with antipathy towards Native Americans known as Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) - to stay behind, care for Glass, who can barely move, and give him a proper burial when the time comes.

Fitzgerald wants Glass to die as quickly as possible, so he can bring back the furs and recoup his losses and convinces Glass to let him smother him on the grounds of saving his son since the Sioux could be approaching, but Hawk misinterprets the situation, intervenes and is fatally stabbed by Fitzgerald, who then halfheartedly buries Glass alive and swindles Bridger into fleeing.

Most of the rest of the picture involves Glass digging himself out of his grave and literally crawling and then, after healing, walking back to Fort Kiowa to track down Fitzgerald and avenge his son's death. Along the way, there's a subplot involving a missing Sioux chief's daughter, some French traders and Glass's running into both that plays into the film's climax.

So, while the story is mostly a fairly straightforward survival and revenge tale, the camerawork is truly incredible. The picture was reportedly one of the most difficult shoots in history as Inarritu, in the style of Herzog, took his crew into unpopulated wilds, where they braved the elements and the film gives off the mad genius vibe that permeated other difficult-to-make classics such as "Apocalypse Now" and "Fitzcarraldo."

And DiCaprio, whom the Academy Award has eluded all these years, should finally get the credit due to him. This is one of the most physically challenging performances I've seen and he rises to the occasion. Hardy exudes menace as Fitzgerald, while Poulter provides the right amount of naivete and, then, maturation as Bridger.

Inarritu, whose early films were primarily intersecting triptych films, has branched off into new territory, first with last year's dizzying dramedy "Birdman" and, now, the gorgeously harrowing "The Revenant." It's one of the most impressive cinematic rebirths of recent years and one that I hope continues onward with the director's next film.

No comments:

Post a Comment