The visionary director Alejandro González Iñárritu has been an Academy favourite now for some time and after the huge success of his last film, he again presents an Oscar frontrunner in hunting drama ‘The Revenant’, loosely adapted from Michael Punke’s novel of the same name. Leonardo DiCaprio takes the leading role as frontiersman Hugh Glass, who embarks on a fur trading expedition alongside John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and their leader Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). When events take a drastic turn for the worse for Glass, he uses survival instincts and will power to exact revenge on those who have wronged him.
Working alongside regular collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, who has won awards for his cinematography work on the likes of Gravity and Birdman, Iñárritu offers up a visually exciting, snowy treat which does not shy away from the grotesque material. The camera swoops over and around the protagonists, stalking them across vast landscapes through a story which is relatively simple in its retelling. In the way the movie is shot, there is a continuous sense of dread and tension, suggesting that grave danger is never far away. Key to the plot is the grisly brawl with a grizzly bear that has made some sensationally misleading headlines, and this scene in particular is stunningly stitched together, driving the development of the entire picture. In parts it feels like the most cinematic episode of Bear Grylls ever, but when it is good, it is incredible.
Never has the term ‘suffering for your art’ been more apt than when describing Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Hugh Glass, and the visceral physicality of his portrayal is astounding. Starved of dialogue for most of the film, he relies on expression and screen presence and delivers on both counts. Because of the ‘Best Actor’ award that has eluded him thus far, he has enjoyed most of the hype limelight but is arguably outacted by Tom Hardy in the supporting role as Fitzgerald. Hardy, who is usually associated with outlandish villainous parts, gives a more complex and cowardly dark side this time around. Rising star Will Poulter is hugely impressive as well as Domhnall Gleeson, who has enjoyed a period of turning up with solid turns in nearly every big recent release.
‘The Revenant’ is an ambitious, creative spectacle and marks a continuation in the run of form for Alejandro González Iñárritu who, even when tackling challenging projects, doesn’t seem to put a foot wrong. He expands a straightforward revenge tale to epic scale, and gets emotionally charged performances out of DiCaprio and Hardy from a minimalist script. As stunning as the craft is in the filmmaking, this isn’t about showing off. It presents the grim, brutal reality of surviving in the wilderness with just the bare necessities, and although it won’t be a film you’ll want to go back to in a hurry and watch over and over again, it really mustn’t be missed.