The Revenant (2015)
Dir: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
He’s been drowned, on heists through dreams, sat in a room filled with jars of his own urine, and now Leonardo DiCaprio has gone a lot further to prove that he deserves an Oscar!
When frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is attacked by a bear, he becomes a risky burden to his associates and is eventually left for dead. However he survives against all odds, determined to have vengeance on the man who wronged him.
Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu won Academy awards last year for ‘Birdman‘ as both ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’. A clear contrast immediately is that was primarily shot indoors, this is mostly outdoors. Filmed in multiple countries including Canada, the scenery is beautiful with exquisite locations filmed in natural light, which is both a brave and excellent choice. This shows off the talents of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has won Academy Awards two years running for ‘Gravity‘ and ‘Birdman’ and now looks possible he may make it a hat trick for this. The film looks incredible throughout without the benefits of artificial lighting, something voting members of the Academy will appreciate the skill of.
Though there are visible cuts, Iñárritu uses the skills honed while making ‘Birdman’ to hold on to some shots far longer than you would expect, moving the camera around the locations and characters instead of cutting to a different angle. The camera really lingers on some shots, in no rush at all to cut away, immersing the viewer in the battles, but also showcasing that stunning scenery, detailed production design, and some very solid acting skills too.
In my introduction I suggested that Leonardo DiCaprio has done this in pursuit of an Oscar, but in all honesty I’m not that cynical. He’s so consistent, always putting in a good performance, and that’s why it seems so incredible that he hasn’t yet won an Oscar despite being nominated for his acting four times before. What often gets a win is physical changes extreme weight loss, or clearly apparent hardship in the filming process. No doubt there were breaks, hot meals, dry clothes, but watching someone drag themselves across the frozen ground, swim icy rivers while weighed down with saturated furs, and chew on liver, is gruelling enough to watch in an air-conditioned cinema so must have been a labour of love and dedication for the actor. His dialogue at times is reduced to grunts and cries of anguish, however his performance never falls short of excellent.
Tom Hardy speaks far more in this than he did in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘, with a strong American drawl, he’s quickly distinguished as unlikable and by the end you’ll hate him. While Leo is busy knocking at death’s door, Hardy’s character Fitzgerald gets a meaty and interesting role and he’s really excellent, hence this being his nominated role of the year and not either part in ‘Legend’ or his eponymous Max.
Domnhall Gleeson has been busy this past year. Like Benedict Cumberbatch a few years ago, he features in a few films that have resulted in Oscar nominations, though none specifically for his own roles. This is the smallest of his roles this year, though very important and one he takes on with full gusto, as well as being luckily one of few characters who comes through the situation favourably thanks to his more asserted sense of morality and compassion.
One thing that was so bad I almost couldn’t believe it was in the film (and I watched carefully to check it wasn’t a cinema projection issue) is the dubbing of the native Americans when they are speaking. The synchronisation of the words we hear to their lip movements was so far off it looked truly terrible and amateurish, like when a bad Kung Fu movie is re-dubbed into English. I’m sure there’s some explanation for it, maybe that the language was not of the actors native tribe, but still, if Leo could learn the lines to speak them, surely so could they? Or at the very least the editing should’ve been adjusted to minimise the negative effects.
In the end those moments are few and brief, thankfully forgotten by the time you get into the vicious and brutal final act. There are scenes of intense action through the film but none really compare to the end, partly due to built up anticipation as the final confrontation was inevitable for so very long. We’ve watched Glass go through so much in the preceding two hours, that by the last half hour we want it to reach a satisfying conclusion for him.
Will this year be the one in which DiCaprio finally wins his elusive Oscar? Almost certainly. It always helps your chances to be in a spectacular film, as well as there being clearly evident physical effort going in to the performance, a point the director and actors are all stressing in their promotional appearances. I’m not so convinced it’s the best film of the year as some are suggesting, and I’ve not even seen all the contenders yet. Doubtless it is another triumph for Iñárritu who displays great skill and versatility, which may indeed lead him again to awards victory.