Film Review: ‘The Revenant’ (2015)

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Raise your hand if you want Leonardo DiCaprio to in an Academy Award. My hand is up, so is yours. So are the digital hands of the entire Internet universe.

If you ask anyone who makes their living boiling the Oscars down to a science, this is DiCaprio’s year (careful, Leo, you’ve heard this before). The immense struggle of bringing The Revenant to the screen has been well-documented and DiCaprio’s commitment to the role is clearly on screen. Yet, I’m not buying it.

(Leo – can I call you Leo? – if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. If I was in charge of giving out Oscars, you would have a few already. None of them would be for The Revenant, however).

The Revenant is an undeniable technical marvel from last year’s Best Director winner, Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman). He re-teams with master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (back-to-back Oscar winner for Gravity and Birdman). The team shot the entire film in natural lighting, which is a daunting venture itself. They capture the chilly landscape beautifully and give the film a real sense of atmosphere.

Sure, it’s all gorgeous. I could go on and on. But The Revenant drags on for 156 minutes, presenting itself as something profound and deep but delivering the contrary. This is a revenge picture, a story of good vs. evil. It’s as simple as that. Don’t let the pretty package fool you.

DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, a frontiersman and fur trader in the 1820s. During an expedition, he is mauled by a bear, which is one of the film’s truly riveting moments, and left for dead. He must travel to safety and seek revenge on John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who left him behind.

And so we walk with Hugh through the snow and the wilderness. He must do anything he can to stay alive (you already heard he slept in a animal carcass and ate bison liver). The Revenant should be gut-wrenching but winds up feeling more like a chore and an endurance test for the audience to watch. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart because this is a brutal, bloody film.

What DiCaprio does here is physically daunting, as he is thrown every which way throughout the movie. He says very little but when he does it’s usually through a growl or groan. He and Hardy do a lot of chest beating and yelling and half the time it is unintelligible. It makes it hard to become invested in these characters.

I find no pleasure in talking about The Revenant this way. But it’s one of those movies that the anticipation was too high and it just didn’t deliver on a narrative or emotional level. The would-be emotionally involving story is as cold as the film’s surroundings and keeps you at an arms length.

Now, back to that Oscar. Should this finally be DiCaprio’s year to wipe out all of the jokes and memes that populate the Internet – great. He is a great actor and one of the best of his generation. But, if you’ve noticed, the buzz surrounding the his performance is about everything he did or went through during the shoot, not so much his actual delivery. Interesting.

The Revenant rates 4 out of 10

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