The Revenant (2016) (Review)

The Revenant was practically conceptualised as Oscar Bait; an award-winning director fresh off his Best Director win, an actor who has seemingly spent his career chasing Oscar glory, a narrative reflecting an unflinching battle against all odds and the perfect release timing made this film quite the contender for award season. It seems that all has paid off well so far, with the film sweeping up an incredible 12 nominations for the 88th Academy Awards - the highest of any film this season - and more than enough Golden Globes and other accolades. That sort of hype is not always good, as it means expectations were almost as high as the stakes for the characters, in this brutal, epic adventure film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu.

Hugh Glass (Leonardo Dicaprio) and his fellow hunters are suddenly ambushed and forced to flee the harrowing bloodshed at the hands of a Native American tribe. Disturbing a grizzly bear with cubs, he is then mauled within inches of his life, forcing his group to carry him on their journey to safety - a decision that does not rest well with all. Electing to stay behind with him in return for money, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) deceives Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) into leave him for dead and killing his half-native Son in the process. A shell of his former self, Glass attempts to avenge his counterparts and unleash hell upon them in the torturous way he dealt with himself, dragging himself out of the grave and back into civilisation to the see the peregrination through with the most deadliest of consequences.

The Revenant has been constructed to bring a truly magnificent cinematic experience to the big screen, executed in a breathtaking fashion by Inarritu, who captures every landscape, expression and emotion with such precision and clarity that everything feels true, authentic and utterly absorbing. His ambition is irrefutable and almost always works, with elongated and extended shots intensifying the sheer brutality of the narrative, apparent with the infamous bear scene which is is rarely interrupted in a way to increase the tension, and the incredible opening ten minutes, which may be one of my favourite opening sequences in film history for its absolute and thoroughgoing detail and direction. His direction is immersive and arresting, something very few can execute with such resolution. It defines the film and I cannot speak highly enough of the aesthetics and layers it brings to the film - it's like nothing I have ever seen before.

Visually compelling and thematic rich, Leonardo DiCaprio further intensifies the film with poise, determination and grit, evidently pushing himself into territory previously unexplored by this seasoned actor with quite the filmography. As the magnetic focal point otherwise lacking in someone to root for, he portrays the mettle of a demolished and broken man seamlessly, aligning himself well with the prestigious golden statue that will be presented next month. Tom Hardy - despite a sketchy accent - serves the narrative well in a supportive capacity, with his vindictive nature warranting a venomous reaction from both the audience and the leading man. Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter's offbeat casting feels out of place on more than a few occasions, but they generally perform well, especially considering the bitter conditions and harsh landscape they face. It's decent but nothing too spectacular.

Where the film begins to unravel, however, is as the film plods along through its 156 minute runtime. Unbalanced pacing and an overstretched narrative leads the film to feel occasionally void of any progressive substance and further development, a hapless case of style over substance. As undeniably accomplished and skilful as it is, the extended runtime often detracts from the actual enjoyment of the film, stagnating and deteriorating the entertainment aspect as it plods along. In fact, at the very beginning of the film a character comments "I know you want this to be over", but little did I expect for it to resonate so truly as we approached the two hour mark. Furthermore, it drags as Glass looks for freedom yet his eventual release is over in seconds, resulting in something anti-climatic and throwaway, causing for a disparity and lack of balance that is a little disconcerting for a film with such talent involved. That said, this isn't really a film to be enjoyed as such, more to be appreciated and acknowledged for its masterful approach and gritty subject matter.

When it works, it really works; outstanding visuals, a solid direction and superb acting culminate in an undeniably strong film, all of which is unfortunately weakened by uneven pacing, an overstretched runtime and a number of liberties taken with the narrative, that make it all slightly convenient and bordering on unbelievable in many instances.  I can put that aside though, as The Revenant is the type of film the big screen was made for - a cinematic experience of mental and physical intensity for both the characters and the audience. Equally savage and poetic, dark and light, The Revenant is a film of great disparity, but one that must be experienced on the biggest screen possible to appreciate everything for how it is intended.

Summary: A committed performances from Leonardo Dicaprio, matched with memerising direction from Alejandro G. Inarritu culminates in an unflinchingly grim, if overstretched film, that is best experienced on the big screen for full immersion.

Highlight: Alejandro G. Inarritu's direction and the outstanding cinematography applied are all-encompassing of the film and the truly unique selling point.

REVISED - 7.5/10
(ORIIGNAL - 7/10)