The Revenant

Further proof that Alejandro G. Iñárritu is an auteur.
Movie Review #1,047


Distributed by 20th Century Fox.  Adventure-Drama-Thriller-Western.  Running time: 2 hours, 36 minutes.  Rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.  Released January 8, 2016.  Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.  Screenplay by Mark L. Smith & Alejandro G. Iñárritu.  Based in part on the novel by Michael Punke.  Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, and Joshua Burge.

“The Revenant” is the second film in just over a year, following “Birdman” in October 2014, to prove that Alejandro G. Iñárritu fits the very definition of an auteur. Despite this being his first studio production, his artistic control is greater than ever. Iñárritu’s realization of the Western epic is akin to a method actor’s realization of his role; essentially, it’s method filmmaking. Save for the bear that mauls frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the story’s defining moment, not a dime of the film’s $135 million budget is CGI. Iñárritu shot every last scene of the film in chronological order, on location in Canada and Argentina, using only natural lighting. Winter weather conditions were extremely harsh, and production days had to be very carefully planned in order to shoot in the proper setting. These difficulties led to an 80-day production schedule that took place over a whopping nine months. To make matters worse, many of the crew members either quit or were fired on the spot. But it all paid off in the end. “The Revenant” is the epitome of realism in modern cinema, a film whose romantic qualities make it feel real, a film where beauty exists within brutality, or perhaps brutality within beauty.

The cinematography here is glorious. To Emmanuel Lubezki, the camera is a rod with which he reels us in irrevocably. His long, artful takes, dollying in on the action, don the effect of approaching the characters at hand. It’s part of what turns the film into an illustriously sentient experience. Only to enhance the experience is the sound, engineered in heavily realistic form. During one particular scene featuring a campfire burning in the background, my eyes darted briefly toward the exit sign near the front of the theater. For a split second, I was convinced that there was a fire burning somewhere around me.

Iñárritu is a director like no other. His most recent work is realistically, brutally violent, disturbing and revolting, but utterly engrossing. It’s a film that, like “Birdman” before it, defies convention in every way we’d immediately think of. “The Revenant” takes a genre like the survival tale and reimagines it in an unorthodox and utterly cinematic fashion. His script for “The Revenant” is terrific, but what’s made of it is 20 times better. Tom Hardy’s performance is brilliant, his character increasingly detestable. But he’s nothing compared to the caliber of the lead actor. Leonardo DiCaprio is intense and captivating in his role as Hugh Glass. This isn’t him getting up on rooftops and shouting “Give me an Oscar already!” But if that doesn’t happen, there really is no justice to the film.

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