After winning the Oscar last year for Birdman, Alejandro Inarritu went in the complete opposite direction for The Revenant, trading the bizarre backstage antics of a Broadway play for the brutal landscapes of the 1820’s and telling the story of real life explorer/hunter Hugh Glass.
After their fur expedition is attacked by a hostile tribe of Native Americans, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) tries to lead the survivors back to some sort of civilization but he’s attacked by a bear and, after slowing down the expedition, he’s left for dead by the treacherous Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) but Glass survives and fights his way back to get revenge. The plot is fairly simple but Inarritu drags it out to epic length and it does feel a little much, especially in the latter half of the movie. I guess Inarritu is trying to make the audience feel how long and agonizing Glass’ journey is but I think if it was trimmed down to be slightly tighter, it would not lose what’s it’s trying to show. Even when you think things might be wrapping up, there’s an extended climax that adds another 30 minutes or so to the movie. There’s also a side plot involving the attacking tribe, the Arikara, trying to find a kidnapped girl of their tribe that takes up almost as much screen time in the middle of the movie as Glass’ story but it gets resolved as sort of an after thought, which is strange after so much time was spent with them. It’s not bad by any stretch but I personally would have been much more on board if it was slightly tighter.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy are both incredible as the rival members of the fur expedition. Leo does so much non-verbal acting and you feel and see every agonizing step of his journey on his face. Hardy fully inhabits his despicable character Fitzgerald and does a great job of building your hatred of his character so that the inevitable confrontation with Glass has a ton of weight. Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson are also great in side roles as other members of the fur expedition.
The one thing you can expect from Inarritu that is definitely on display in The Revenant is incredible visuals. The landscapes are stunningly shot and there are some amazing sequences, including the almost Saving Private Ryanesque opening attack by the Arikara is amazing and the much hyped bear attack sequence fully delivers in how brutal and relentless it is. I also appreciated in grimy and dirty the world in this film is, there’s no romanticizing this time period in The Revenant and it feels completely realistic as far as the look of all the characters and what they are carrying. There are a few sequences that kind of stretch the realism, like the shot from the trailer of Glass riding a horse off a cliff, but overall it feels extremely realistic and brutal.
Although you feel the length at some times, The Revenant is a visually stunning survival epic with a pair of fantastic performances from DiCaprio and Hardy that further cements Innaritu as one of the most exciting directors working today and I can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.