Review of The Revenant

A spoiler-free review of Iñárritu’s latest feature film


Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant is a work of art that touches on the primitive nature of humans and the power of vengeance and love. Based on true events, it tells the story of fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is mauled by a bear and abandoned by his party. Severely injured, he crawls and limps his way through a beautiful and bleak 1823 South Dakota landscape fueled by a fierce hunger to get revenge on John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who has deeply betrayed him. This film excels in every aspect, especially direction, cinematography, and acting.

Stylistically, Iñárritu’s direction is visceral and immersive. The dramatic fight sequences are shot in long takes with very few cuts, following one person’s movements for an extended period before jumping to the next. This places the viewer directly on the battlefield, experiencing the chaos in real time. The camera often gets so close to the actors’ faces that their breath fogs up the lens, giving the impression of extreme proximity, but also reminding the audience that they are in the theater, not in the wilderness alongside Glass and Fitzgerald. Iñárritu insisted on using only natural light, making filming considerably more time-consuming. Despite the difficulty, the organic feeling was well worth it.

Cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is a true artist of his craft. In The Revenant, he uses extreme long shots to showcase the stunning mountains and icy plains of Argentina and Canada, where the movie was shot over nine months. These faraway shots contrast with extreme closeups of the characters’ bloody, haggard faces, displaying their most intimate emotions.

The scenery seems to be from another world, one untouched by humans. The colossal mountains, vast fields, and endless forests are so awe-inspiring and untouchable that the war between Glass and Fitzgerald, or even that of the Native Americans and the explorers, seems petty and insignificant. They are at each other’s throats, shooting and stabbing, taking human lives without a thought, and yet the Earth never changes.

The gore in this movie is not just a cheap crowd pleaser. Every act of violence has a purpose, and is never overdone (Tarantino, anyone?). The “bear scene”, as it is already referred to as, features a frighteningly realistic grizzly bear tearing Hugh Glass apart. No music plays, and the only sounds are the bear’s furious roars and Glass’s agonized screams. The same raw, simple bloodshed occurs in all the war scenes. Brutality is an important theme in this film, and it makes Glass’s resilience that much more shocking and admirable.

In a lifetime of watching movies, I’ve seen a million fight scenes, but none as gut-wrenching as the final showdown of The Revenant. Violence is so prevalent in the media nowadays that it’s difficult to truly shock an audience anymore, but I was wincing and gasping at every stab and slice.

DiCaprio’s Oscar-nominated performance in The Revenant is simply outstanding. His character barely speaks in the film; even before the grizzly claws through his vocal cords, you get the sense that Glass is a man of few words. Most of his infrequent dialogue is in the Pawnee language, in hallucinatory flashbacks of him whispering reassurances to his half-Pawnee son, who was badly burned in an attack on his village by the fur trappers. Despite the lack of speech, you always understand Glass’s emotions. His face tells it all: desperation, pain, fury. Thanks to his dedication and extraordinary talent, I have no doubt DiCaprio will finally take home his first Oscar win this year.

Tom Hardy plays Glass’s adversary, John Fitzgerald. Although most of his dialogue is incomprehensible mumbling, the parts you can understand are absolutely infuriating. This character is ruthless and depraved, and will do anything to survive. Hardy’s performance was exceptional, but we’ll see if he wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Domhnall Gleeson, who is quickly gaining popularity after his roles in Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, plays Captain Andrew Henry, the leader of the hunting party. His character is not particularly interesting or complex, but at least provides a source of hope because he wants to do what is right.

Will Poulter, who we know affectionately as the innocent Kenny from We’re The Millers, gives a surprisingly serious performance as Jim Bridger. He holds his own with huge stars DiCaprio and Hardy, and I can easily see his work in The Revenant getting him some bigger roles in the near future.

So if you are looking for something to do this weekend, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing The Revenant. But be ready to use your brain; this movie is not one to be passively entertained by. It requires full attention and focus. This masterpiece will make you think about what lengths you would go to for your family, and will certainly make you grateful that you live in temperate South Carolina.