The Revenant’s gruelling shoot is already crossing over into Hollywood myth and legend. It endured everything from freezing temperatures to an unusual lack of snow in Canada and saw more than one crew member either walk off the set or be fired. All to bring us the story of Hugh Glass, (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is buried alive and left for dead by his fellow trappers after he is attacked by a grizzly bear. Somehow he survives to pull himself out of his grave and give chase, seeking revenge on those that have wronged him. So the question is, was it all worth it?
It is hard not to feel sorry for Roger Deakins while watching The Revenant. This year sees him being nominated for his thirteenth cinematography Oscar with the brilliant Sicario and yet under this onslaught, he doesn’t stand a chance. The Revenant is a gorgeous film. Shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, it was done entirely by natural light, which strangely gives it an otherworldly feel. Rather than the bright lights of Hollywood, we are presented with the dusky feel of the wilderness. Everything seeming slightly more alive and vibrant for it. Meanwhile, the camera swoops around through long extended takes, with a battle scene in the opening minutes being a genuinely breathtaking piece of cinema. Say what you want about the rest of The Revenant, but damn does it look good.
And there are other upsides too, DiCaprio puts on a tour de force in the central role which will surely bring him that elusive first Oscar. Glass is a largely silent character, so DiCaprio is unable to use that trademark spoken charm we have seen from him so often. Instead, he has to rely on his physical abilities to tell a story. His encounter with the bear is edge of the seat stuff and the way he carries those injuries for the rest of the film could teach a few WWE stars about how to sell pain.
He isn’t alone though and the all-star cast pulls their weight. Tom Hardy is all growling menace as John Fitzgerald, a trapper out for himself and only himself. It’s a role that you feel Hardy could do in his sleep, but he is damn good at it. While Domhnall Gleeson continues to shine whenever on screen as the Captain who is massively out of his depth. Will Poulter also gets to make his mark on the film as Jim Bridger, one of the youngest members of their party and one who he is far too good for this harsh world.
The film’s problems come, as they tend to from Alejandro G. Iñárritu, in its self-indulgence. A Native American mysticism that runs through it is quite frankly draining and constant dream sequences involving DiCaprio threatens to derail its momentum more than once. It also leads to the film feeling far too long at two hours and yet the final conclusion almost coming across a bit rushed. Iñárritu is without a doubt a brilliant director and compared to last years Birdman this could almost be a lesson in understatement, but his own lavish nature occasionally gets the better of him.
Despite this, The Revenant is the kind of cinema that you need to see. Gorgeous looking and featuring several gasp out loud moments, it is going to be talked about for a long time and as yesterday’s Oscar nominations showed, has the potential to sweep up this awards season. It is a film that will benefit from being seen in the confines of a cinema and is well worth seeking out.