Friday, 5 February 2016

Revenge is Best Served Cold

This years Oscars seem to be a year of survival films. Both Mad Max and The Martian had the theme of survival at their core but neither even come close to today's film. Today's film takes the survival theme and stretches it to its very limits. This is The Revenant.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) live on a settlement with a fur-trappers. When their hunting party is attacked by a local tribe of native Arikara Indians, they have to flee to try and make it to a safe outpost. Led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and accompanied by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), the group venture out towards safety but on route, Glass gets separated from the others and mauled by a bear. Despite the freezing winter, the others rescue him and carry him between them on a stretcher. However, after being slowed down by the burden, Glass is eventually left for dead and buried alive when Fitzgerald tricks Bridger into thinking they are about to come under attack, forcing them to leave Glass behind. But Glass fights to survive and he has one sole intent - to get revenge on Fitzgerald.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass

The Revenant is, very simply put, Leonardo DiCaprio's film. Not only is the film almost entirely focused on Glass' fight to survive, giving him a huge percentage of the screen time, but it is also a testament to DiCaprio's acting ability. Not that this was ever in doubt, but after several roles that involved a high amount of physicality and volume (see The Wolf of Wall Street), his performance as Glass pushes him to his limits. Glass, for a good majority of the film, can hardly move or speak, and yet DiCaprio brings such life to an almost lifeless character. Tied down to the stretcher, completely incapacitated, his constrained facial expressions and muffled grunts tell a more detailed and developed narrative than whole films managed in 2015 (see Pixels). Despite this, DiCaprio is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, Tom Hardy in particular. There is something nasty about Hardy's Fitzgerald but, at the same time, terribly endearing. He is intelligent but brutal, dishonest but authoritative. He has superb survival instincts but is only out for himself. Hardy encapsulates this and creates one of the best antagonists of the year.

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald
The Revenant is an epic adventure from start to finish. It opens with an absolutely astonishing set piece, the camera tracking through the carnage of battle, following one hunter until their death, then another then another. We adopt the camera's viewpoint and stumble through the fighting in confusion but also never looking away; we even plunge underwater with Will Poulter's Bridger as someone attempts to drown him. Alejandro González Iñárritu uses similar techniques to his Best Picture winning Birdman last year, albeit in shorter supply, to drag us into the gritty realm of survival. But is it any surprise with someone as talented as Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity, Children of Men, The Tree of Life) behind the camera that The Revenant excels in its visual story telling. Bookended by two incredibly shot scenes of fighting, The Revenant does almost as much in how it portrays its narrative as what it is portraying. The long shots of the wilderness tell us its great expanse, the long takes tell us the relentlessness of the struggles faced.

Without a doubt the most gorgeous film of the year, but perhaps also the grittiest; the true story it is based on is not even as brutal as the film's depiction of the events, but Iñárritu and Lubezki really capitalise on their visual art form and make something truly memorable.

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