Review: The Revenant

If you haven’t seen The Revenant yet, or if you’re umming and ahhing over going to see it, I have just two things to say to you: 1) go and see it, and 2) go and see it, really. I promise that you will not be disappointed. Add to that the fact that this might just be THE ONE, the Oscar winner, for Leonardo DiCaprio, and you have bagged yourself a film worth talking about, worth gushing about –which is exactly what this article is going to do.

Alejandro Gonzàlez Iñárritu’s adaptation of Michael Punke’s short story thoroughly deserves the hype it’s been receiving and its Oscar nominations. The Revenant is a breath-taking visual wonder, with a visceral and authentic feel to it. Iñárritu uses his idiosyncratic camera techniques, already celebrated in Birdman, to immerse his audience in the life of fur trappers in Montana and South Dakota in the early 19th century.  The story, which some feel ought to have been both tighter and more central to the film, focuses on Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a fur trapper who is left for dead by his companions (brilliant Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domnhall Gleeson) after a vicious bear attack –no, he does not get raped by the bear, but the mauling is still shocking to watch. Vowing revenge after his son’s murder, he follows his companions back to their settlement in a harrowing and moving account of the difficulties of survival in a primitive land faced by white settlers and the indigenous population of Native Americans; the film is unbiased in that sense.

Glass’ resilience is toe-curlingly admirable –honestly, he does some questionable things, like eating raw bison liver and sleeping inside a horse during a blizzard, on his journey that left me wondering ‘how is he not dead yet?’ and ‘why doesn’t he just give up?’ and the beautiful camera work, which at times acknowledges the film’s fictionality by allowing DiCaprio to breathe on the lens, allows us to follow him intimately. I felt cold when Glass was cold, and hungry when he was (except when he ate the liver –I draw the line there). Dialogue is limited, there’s no corny voiceover explaining Glass’ reasoning and motives, but DiCaprio manages to convey reason and feeling silently, while spending a lot of the film crawling around on the snow-covered ground, rasping for breath.

I have a good feeling about DiCaprio’s nomination for Best Actor for this film but, ironically, I don’t actually think that this is the best performance of his career, although I might concede that it was probably one of his most challenging. On a side note, what will happen to all the Oscar-related DiCaprio memes if he does win? Where will they go? Is there some sort of meme afterlife, or do they just disappear into the unknown? Tom Hardy is also excellent, and I think underrated despite his nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as DiCaprio’s aggressive and unfeeling enemy; I really hated him, and wanted Glass to achieve revenge in true Western style, which made the climax of the film feel a little…anticlimactic for me.

I think the overall consensus of most audiences is that this is a gripping and exciting film, but I also believe that it has the potential to divide viewers; those who seek a strong narrative and who are uninterested in the camera work and scenic shots might find the film boring and overlong, but I would strongly recommend watching it in order to decide. Whether or not The Revenant is a film you would want to watch is open to debate, but it is a film that you should watch.

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Liffey OBrien

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