Into The Woods
By Adam Sturrock
The Revenant (2016)
Director: Alejandro G Iñárritu
Writer: Mark L Smith, Alejandro G Iñárritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
The Revenant is a paradoxically beautiful and ugly film. It often intertwines stark & vast landscapes and lush forests with the harsh and horrifically brutal battles of men against men. Guts spill and bones snap in excruciatingly visceral detail. There is rarely a moment for peace. At all times in director, Alejandro G Iñárritu’s The Revenant, nature is in some way trying to rip or tear at anything that tries to ruin the balance of its surroundings.
The plot of the film is partly based off of a real life tale, a compelling story about Hugh Glass, a real-life fur trapper who was abandoned by his group in the early 1800s after a gruesome bear attack. Through perseverance, Glass hobbles and crawls his way through hundreds of miles of wilderness, scavenging what he can find as he tries to make his way back to his crew.
The Revenant is a powerful story of survival when your hand is not dealt in your favour and DiCaprio’s intensely physical and impressive role as Glass does provide you with a genuine reason to root for him.
An accumulation of stellar work by the actors, the set designers, cinematographers and script writers does not reach its true potential, however, because the Revenant is let down by its director in some instances.
I think the film fails in part due to its insistence of trying to find a deeper meaning within the story – stripped bare, its masterfully crafted scenes work well. It could be said that subtlety isn’t his strong point, but even so, Iñárritu bludgeons us over its two and a half hour length with the idea that life is tough and won’t lend you a hand in a perilous situation, but he doesn’t stop there – in moments throughout the film, he tries to shoehorn a spiritual overtone but those fragments feel under-baked. His many moments of attempting to provide symbolism to chew over falling flat.
But the Revenant does so many things right. So many of its scenes created by Birdman (among other things) cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, are glorious to behold. There are shots in the film that I have no idea how he filmed, and it even baffles me that he managed to make these shots using limited artificial lighting.
The colour palette of callous blues and whites with jarring splashes of red really helps us understand how brutal and unforgiving nature can be at its worst. At all times, its characters are hemmed in by this oppressive nothingness, lacking any warmth to offer respite. Iñárritu and his filmcrew make the world that the film inhabits ever bigger, crueler and harsher – every meaningful step forward is counterbalanced with a shot of another hundred miles to conquer, dwarfing its protagonists.
And speaking of which, the acting is pretty solid. The foundation of the film is held up by a tight group of talented actors led by Domhnall Gleeson, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and the aforementioned DiCaprio. An adversarial battle of sorts between Glass and his crew member, John Fitzgerald (Hardy) drives the film onwards to its satisfyingly gory conclusion- regardless of the fact that the Hardy mumble™ is in full force with his, at times, garbled Texan drawl becoming incomprehensible.
Comparing the Revenant to fellow Oscar alum, The Martian – a somewhat similar tale of survival in the most unlikely of circumstances – the former comes across as too chest-thumpingly machismo; big scraggly beards, glaring stares and lacking in any humour or self awareness to potentially lighten the load of constant seriousness.
The Revenant is frustrating to watch because in many cases, it could do so much better than what it eventually became. It feels like surrounding a great film is a sliver of fat that makes it a bit stodgier than it should be.