Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Cast: Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson
Watch The Revenant online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
If anyone doubted the extremes to which Leonardo DiCaprio would go to win an Oscar, The Revenant put those doubts firmly to rest. Over the course of almost three hours, the actor got shot, assaulted by a bear and practically frozen to death to tell the tale of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) struggling to survive in the wilderness in 1823. Thank goodness the Academy gave him an award for it – who knows what he would have done next?
DiCaprio’s dogged determination immediately grabs your attention; he immerses himself in Hugh so much that his physical and psychological commitment are inseparable from his character’s superhuman efforts to stay alive. The problem is that by basing the narrative around that framework, watching one man undergo increasingly gruelling ordeals for 156 minutes gradually loses its novelty.
The script, by director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, attempts to give that drive to trump death an emotional depth, as DiCaprio’s young son (Forrest Goodluck) falls foul of another member of his hunting team (Tom Hardy). Even that vengeful streak, though, can’t quite sustain a movie of this arduous length; visions of his wife urging him on to find inner peace only bring a familiar, cliched note to a story that works because of its unfamiliar, raw edge. It’s revealing, perhaps, that the most moving part of the story comes from the naive soldier, Jim (a fantastic Will Pouter), who volunteers to help look after the injured Hugh, only to come directly into conflict with Hardy’s hardened mercenary. The contrast between them, as well as Domnhall Gleason’s young, moral officer, gives all three a chance to deliver some superb work; Hardy growls and gruffs in a way that only Hardy can.
They, however, aren’t the protagonist of our tale. And so Alejandro has no other option but to raise the stakes throughout, making sure that the spectacle, at least, keeps us hooked. By the time we’re watching Hugh jump off a cliff, things begin to feel increasingly improbable.
If things take on the feel of a console platformer, though, that’s partly testament to the movie’s unique style. Working once again with Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, Iñárritu and his unrivalled DoP create an experience that is at once visceral and philosophical, a world that drives us forward on rails, but constantly explores its surroundings in wonder. While DiCaprio fragile waif of a human crawling inside a beast’s carcass for warmth is the headline act, there’s no doubting that the brutal, jaw-dropping landscape is the real star of the show. The opening sequence, all presented as a single take, is a masterclass in suspenseful, immersive action, as the camera floats along a fixed path and constantly spins around to see what perils lurk off-screen; reminiscent of Children of Men’s disembodied cinematography, it’s like jumping into a CGI sandbox, or trying out virtual reality without needing a headset.
Accompanied by Alva Noto and Ryûichi Sakamoto’s haunting score, the result is a monumental feat of world-building, crafting a whole universe out of one man’s pain and agony. The Revenant, therefore, just might be the greatest video game movie ever made. It reaches for spiritual heights with an astonishing ambition and artistry – and while DiCaprio proves himself an Oscar-worthy contender, who won’t stop until he gets past the final level, you just wish that he put the controller down a bit sooner. The longer we watch him play the game, the more transient the transcendence becomes.
The Revenant is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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