WILL The Revenant finally win Leonardo DiCaprio the Best Actor Oscar? Probably. But it’s by no means a sure thing.
This isn’t Leo’s best film, but it’s good. As folkloric survivalist Hugh Glass he’s on screen for most of it – crawling, spitting, losing fights with bears, tumbling off cliffs and generally having a bad time of it.
Set in the beautiful wilds of North America in the early 19th century, Glass is part of a fur trading expedition risking life, limb and scalp to bring pelts back to the white man.
A savage mauling by a mama grizzly puts him in all kinds of hurt and in the care of his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and two frontiersmen. Hawk is killed by hardened trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) while a wrecked Glass looks on helplessly and a few days later Fitzgerald and young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) abandon their man for dead.
Cue two hours of straight up revenge seeking from the indomitable Glass.
Tales of the gruelling work regimen imposed by director Alejandro González Inñáritu (last year’s breakthrough Academy Award Best Director winner for Birdman) and a fierce devotion to only shooting on location and in natural light meant the production ran over by five months and £35 million, according to reports.
It was doubtless worth it for the performances given. All of the men (there’s hardly a woman in sight) look like they’re going through the ringer. But for all the noise about the natural setting, there’s something inescapably unnatural about this movie.
First is Glass’ uncanny ability to survive even through the most gruelling experiences that would have put the next man in a wooden box, unless that next man is Bear Grylls. Although the story is based on truth.
Second is the CGI. While up to par for a modern blockbuster, computer-generated animals sit at odds with the sweeping, natural vistas on show.
The bear attack is well shot, but there’s an unreality to the animal itself that makes it hard to stay locked in. Another wild west staple scene shows hundreds of buffalo running over snow-covered plains. It’s good, but the motion is all wrong.
Glass’ wounds look like something out of The Walking Dead. They’re too obviously fake. Perhaps I’m being too fussy, but when the film’s selling point is its spectacular all-natural setting these elements only serve to make it feel unaccomplished and somehow wrong.
I can’t help but think that Kevin Costner classic Dances With Wolves, made in 1990, succeeded where The Revenant fails. Tatonka anyone?
Final word: The Revenant is a beautiful but gritty frontier drama that pits man against the elements and himself. Brace for visceral survival scenes and enjoy the spirit of adventure while remembering that afterwards you can go home to a hot shower and soft bed.
If you liked The Revenant you should also watch:
- Dances With Wolves
- True Grit