Presenting cinema’s most terrifying bear attack scene – it’s worth the price of admission alone. Stay for a gob-smacking survival revenge epic, and perhaps the biggest blast you’ll have at the movies this year.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Did Alejandro González Iñárritu just become the most exciting filmmaker of today? Not that he’s ever produced anything short of outstanding, of course, but with the one-two punch of Best Picture winner Birdman, and now the equally worthy The Revenant, he’s achieved something fellow directors can only envy. He’s secured his spot among the great innovators of film, with only six features under his belt – everyone in Hollywood is bound to be lining up for a chance to work with him now. It’s just a shame that the Academy is unlikely to honour the same victor twice in a row, but otherwise he could very easily sweep every award ceremony again. At the very least, it seems highly likely that one man involved could (finally) walk away with that little golden statue.
It’s 1823, and much of the American wilderness still remains uncharted, begging to be explored. Based on an actual expedition-gone-horribly-wrong in these parts, The Revenant finds frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of explorers just as hell descends upon them, in the form of a vicious Native American tribe. Attacking and scattering the clan, Glass’ remaining hunting team seeks to return to their base camp; complicated further by a chance encounter with a grizzly bear, leaving Glass horrifically and near-fatally mauled. Now little more than a tattered corpse, Glass must navigate the deadly natural terrain against the odds of survival back to camp, with one motive – vengeance against his fellow crew member John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who has destroyed something of great value to him.
An entire world away from the madcap Hollywood satire of Birdman, The Revenant nonetheless shares a penchant for extreme long takes (no single take this time, though you’ll be too immersed to notice the cuts) and swooping of the camera to places we’d never dream of, allowing once again introspective new means of revealing the madness and desperation in its cardinal character. The film’s main stretch supersedes recent visionary one-man survival ordeals Gravity and All Is Lost, and arguably surpasses them through sheer relentless brutality and an epic grandeur – elements of thrillers, adventure parables and Westerns are all here.
Iñárritu reportedly went full Kubrick on his actors and crew while filming, running outrageously over schedule and over budget and firing staff not meeting his standards. He created a literal hell for his team, and every ounce of anguish comes across on screen. Perhaps we finally have a man worthy of Kubrick’s crown.
It’s a bold claim to make so early, especially without awareness of other contenders, but this looks dead set to be Leo’s year for the Best Actor Oscar. It almost seemed as though he’d enter history as one of the all-time greats never recognised by the Academy – he, like many, is far too good for them anyway – but even in a role in which he barely speaks for most of the runtime, he puts most other actors to shame. Every excruciating second of pain Glass endures bleeds through DiCaprio’s performance as a good man in a nightmare – you’ll feel every second of it, though perhaps not so much as the heartbreaking emotional turmoil Fitzgerald inflicts upon Glass. The supporting cast is routinely excellent – Hardy, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson in particular – but Leo’s raw agony practically forces them off the screen.
One last mention – Emmanuel Lubezki, the unparalleled cinematographer to sink all others; his breathtaking photography of the chilly wilderness will have you wondering at times if you’ve stumbled into a BBC documentary. He, DiCaprio and Iñárritu gift us the visceral, metaphysical, poetic… hell, quite possibly the film of 2015.
The Revenant is available in Australian cinemas from January 7
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox