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Review: The Revenant – “An extraordinary experience that you cannot afford to miss”

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Leonardo DiCaprio swaps the lavish lifestyle of riches, drugs and banging Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street for the frozen, harsh and deadly wilderness of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest outing The Revenant.

Last year’s Oscar winning director ups his game big time. Ten minutes into the movie and it is clear that he will be a contender once more at the Academy Awards for best director.  He unleashes a wonderfully choreographed scene of an ambush and escape that comprises of several one minute long takes (cleverly made to look that long) of bloody action, swooping camera movements and gorgeous cinematography.  When it is over our hearts are pounding as much as the pursued characters’ are and we are hooked.  He’s just getting us warmed up.  As warmed up as we can be before we are dragged for the rest of the two hours and thirty minutes by our hair through this beast of a movie.

The plot loosely follows the true account of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) a skilled hunter and trapper in 1823 who is attacked by a bear and left critical, slowing down the rest of his hunting party who are on the run after an attack by Native Americans.  John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Bridger (Will Poulter) agree to stay behind with him, along with Glass’ son, until he dies to give him a proper burial.  However, the son is killed when Fitzgerald is seen trying to smother his father who is then left in a shallow grave, half covered in dirt.  Glass awakens, sees his murdered son and is driven to find Fitzgerald and exact revenge.  But first he must cross miles of snowy forest, ice cold rivers and avoid the Native Americans, all whilst trying to survive being at deaths door.

Whilst the premise is about revenge, the movie is really about survival.  It is a miracle that Glass is even alive but the journey he has to undertake is slow and gruelling, filled with perils and tasks he can only go through by sheer determination.

There is no doubt of the technical achievements of The RevenantIñárritu masterfully directs his excellent cast and knows how to plunge the audience into this world.  He wants us to suffer almost as much asDiCaprio must have done whilst shooting.  Emmanuel Lubezki is the cinematographer and also worked on Birdman.  He shoots the movie using only natural lighting which not only looks gorgeous but also helps add to the realism and to further pull the audience into the environment.  The cast is also brilliant, DiCapriolooks like he’s pulling in another Oscar worthy performance (will it slip past him again?), Tom Hardy is great as his brutal antagonist, Domhnall Gleeson (having a great year) is very good, though not great, as Captain of the hunting party who initially wrestles with the problem of taking Glass or leaving him behind.

But despite all the technical achievements and acting moments of glory the audience may, perhaps, be left feeling cold and lacking by the time the lights come up.  There is no satisfying resolve towards the movie, not to say that the ending is anti-climactic, far from it, but we’ve just spent 156 minutes of brutality and desperation and are given no high to go out on.  Not that the ending needs to be all singing and dancing, nor does it have to pander to a general audience to make them happy, but it does need to give us something to think about or something to lift us slightly.  The conclusion is a very unsatisfying one that leaves us feeling a bit empty, perhaps this is how Glass felt at the end.  It is this reason that prevents the movie becoming a great one.  2015 has been an excellent year for movies and as such The Revenantmost likely will not win Best Picture, but it should win Best Director.  Iñárritu has impressed me so much, far beyond any other director this year, even George Miller.  There are several scenes alone that make him worthy of the award.  The most memorable one, and most talked about, is the attack by the bear.  This is what special features are for on DVD and Blu-Rays.  This savage scene consists of a five minute long shot of Leonardo DiCaprio getting brutally attacked by a bear which is going to stick with you forever.  It will be interesting to see how this was made as it looks so realistic I am actually convinced that they just let a real bear nearly kill their star actor.  We will have to wait and see.

The pacing dips at points and the ending may be less than satisfactory but, nevertheless, this is an extraordinary experience that you cannot afford to miss.  The Revenant is a movie that is relentless, unforgiving, brutal and unforgettable.

4-out-of-5

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