The Revenant (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2015)

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The Revenant, directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2015).

Score: A big pile of nothing.

You’ve probably flocked to the cinema to watch this like me. The big Oscar’s runner-up. DiCaprio’s most ambitious acting up to date. Hype on two legs. A big pile of nothing.

The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who, while in a fur trading expedition, gets in a fight with a grizzly bear and her cubs and ends up badly injured. The leader of the expedition offers a generous reward for three men who stay back and nurse him back to health. There are three volunteers: Glass’ half-Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), young Bridger and the selfish and unpleasant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Long story short, Glass gets left for dead and crawls his way for miles to hunt down the men who marooned him.

The technical aspects are quite impressive. With the right crew and enough money they always are. Prosthetics and props are state-of-the-art and photography is beautiful, though I’m not sure to what degree it was absolutely necessary to only shoot with natural light. The little CGI, basically used to animate the grizzly bear, is jaw-dropping. I loved how you could even see the moss on her claws when they came close to the camera.

The acting. DiCaprio wheezes, grunts, crawls, winces and does everything in the palette of a badly injured, desperate man. At moments it looks like he’s going to yell up to the heavens: “Can I have an Oscar now???” DiCaprio says this was the most difficult role of his career because he “chose to devour a raw slab of bison’s liver, even though he is vegetarian. He also had to learn to shoot a musket, build a fire, speak two Native American languages (Pawnee and Arikara), and study with a doctor who specializes in ancient healing techniques”. Like he’s been the first actor ever to learn obscure (when not artificial) languages and learnt some techniques related to the character’s background. I mean, this is pleasantly surprising in a contender, expected in an A-line actor, and he’s not the first actor to go to such lengths. And even with all the physical exhaustion, tongue-speaking and wonderful prosthetics Tom Hardy just steals the show from him. Because Hardy’s performance is wonderfully nuanced and expressive. The way his eyes widen when he’s been caught red-handed and has to make up a lie, all the little facial gestures that make Fitzgerald so despicable, but also so human. He says more about this character by doing less than DiCaprio milking the giant cow.

This movie could have been made in at least forty-five fewer minutes. The photography is wonderful and all but so many shots of beautiful landscapes belong in the art book, not in the movie itself. I liked the arc with Hikuc (Arthur RedCloud) looking for her daughter Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o), but it should have been closer-knitted, with fewer slow scenes in-between. The part where Glass is helped by a Native American was completely unnecessary and overall added about twenty minutes of runtime (it would have also spared DiCaprio from eating the bison liver, everyone wins). The beginning didn’t interest me in the character’s lives, the middle part was interesting but the ending took its sweet time to arrive. The climactic scene with the horse carcass should have come much sooner. Also, at this point we were already watching Bear Grylls: The Movie. There were muffled laughs in the cinema during the dream sequences with the dead wife floating over Glass, suspended on obvious-looking wires.

It’s totally going to kill it in the Oscars.

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