Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant adapts the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) fight for survival in the harsh wilderness after being left for dead following a bear attack.
Tales of survival are always going to get the attention of moviegoers and we frequently hear about actors putting themselves through hell in order to make a role more convincing. Christian Bale is famous for it and now Leonardo DiCaprio joins that club with an ordeal so convincing that I was sure he really endured it.
I imagine in most cases he actually did such as immersing himself in -what must have been- freezing water and practically disrobing in a really cold environment along with many other things but the injuries I’m guessing were mostly artificial. It all blends seamlessly together and definitely looks like a situation that I wouldn’t want to be involved with.
Beyond the harshness of the elements there are several brutal and effective sequences such as the bear attack and some really visceral action sequences that are enhanced by some really long takes following the brutality across the various battle fields.
Everything about this film looks incredible from the locations to the camera work. Everything about the film looks harsh and unforgiving which sets the bleak tone perfectly. Nothing about this ordeal is romanticised in any way; this is life at its most extreme and it is at times exhausting to watch.
No matter how good it looks, at 156 minutes this is a long film and I definitely felt it. There are long stretches where not a lot happens and it starts to drag as a result. There’s only so long I could feel compelled looking at Leonardo DiCaprio wandering through the scenic landscape before I start to get a little bored. When the film picks up with more grim situations it’s fantastic but sometimes it takes just a little too long to get there.
DiCaprio’s performance is excellent but it is a broadly physical performance with very little dialogue. You could probably fit the entirety of the dialogue in this film on around 5 pages of A4. I don’t have a problem with that as it uses the visuals to tell the story rather than relying on people talking but this approach also limits the story a little. Since people don’t say very much and Glass spends much of the film on his own there’s no real insight into who he is as a person. He isn’t all that interesting and is a little difficult to root for as a result. Seeing him faced with this extreme situation did enough to bring me on side but there was little to his character outside of some brief flashbacks and the suggestion of a personality. DiCaprio does a lot with what he’s given but there isn’t quite enough there.
The rest of the cast fare pretty well too. Tom Hardy comes across as a really heartless maniac as achieved by his physicality. This is just as well as I could barely make out a word of what he was saying. i don’t joke when I say that his lines should have been subtitled, he was practically unintelligible. Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter turn in good performances too.
It’s definitely a visual feast and should be taken as such. If you can make it through the slow sections and be impressed by the more visceral sections then you will most likely find plenty to like about this film.