The Revenant is a hauntingly atmospheric and ruthless revenge film that goes a long way to capturing the true horror and beauty of the wild frontiers of 19th century America.
It is driven forwards by one of the most committed and accomplished performances to grace the silver screen in recent years from Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed), who is surrounded by a superb cast featuring Tom Hardy (Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road), Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina) and Forrest Goodluck, who is making his feature debut here.
The latest film from Oscar-winning, acclaimed director Alejandro G Iñárritu (Birdman, 21 Grams), The Revenant spent a good deal of it’s seemingly never-ending production making headlines for the all the wrong reasons. Spiralling budget? Check. Producer barred from the set? Check. Nine-month shoot in sub-zero conditions? Check. Relocating filming from Canada to Argentina due to a lack of snow? Check.
When some involved with the production described the shoot as ‘a living hell’, Iñárritu decided to speak out himself and set the record straight. Acknowledging the high turnover of crewmembers, he pointed out to The Hollywood Reporter that, “as a director, if I identify a violin that is out of tune, I have to take that from the orchestra.”
He also defended the decision to film in sequence and only in natural light, choices that left a small window each day to capture the required scenes, saying; “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of s***.” It’s safe to say that this was avoided by some distance.
The Revenant is based on the true story of frontiersman and explorer Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), who is working as a scout for an expedition of fur-trappers. When their party is attacked by a Native American tribe on their own mission, they are forced to abandon their boat and take the long way home across the land.
The journey doesn’t go to plan for Glass, who attracts the unwanted attentions of an angry mother bear and becomes the victim of an incredibly visceral mauling that is sure to have a significate percentage of cinema-goers curling into balls and watching through their fingers. Although he somehow survives the bear encounter, Glass has to endure a non-stop barrage of harrowing events as he literally drags himself from the grave to extract his revenge on those who left him for dead.
This violent and tragic study into the nature of survival and the strength of the human spirit is one of those ‘perfect storm’ pieces of work where everyone involved is at the absolute top of their game and the end result truly reflects that.
Already the winner of a number of awards, including Golden Globes for DiCaprio and Iñárritu, and leading the field with 12 Oscar nominations, it’s easy to see that The Revenant has won over the critics. However, the levels of artistry and creative genius that are on show here ensure that this isn’t just an exercise in how awards are won, this is how myths are made.