AFTER winning Best Director for Birdman at last year’s Oscars, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu betters his previous work by teaming with Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant, a vicious yet striking survival epic which acts as one of the best features from Hollywood this decade.
Set in 1823, the film starts off with Inarritu quickly topping his work from Birdman with a sudden bloody battle between fur trappers and Native Americans, with Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) barely escaping alongside his son Hawk and fellow fur trappers Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Bridger (Will Poulter).
Shortly after whilst hunting, Glass is attacked by a bear and barely able to kill it but not before suffering serious injuries as a result.
When a decision is made to have several trappers remain with Glass for several days for a fee, Fitzgerald is one of them to take the offer. It is during an altercation that Fitzgerald kills Hawk and subsequently partially buries the immobile Glass and forces a reluctant Bridger to flee with him, leaving him for dead.
Despite the attack, Glass somehow manages to recover from his injuries and sets off to bring revenge to Fitzgerald, in spite of the multiple obstacles facing him on his journey there.
It has only been one year since Inarritu deservedly won the Oscar for Birdman, yet it would not be a problem to see him become the first director since Joseph L. Mankiewicz to win back-to-back directing Oscars.
The reason can only be that of all the things that are in this picture, and there are quite a few, the most memorable aspect is Inarritu’s direction.
Like his contemporary Alfonso Cuaron, Inarritu has this method of beginning a film casually but from the moment that the opening battle takes place, it is obvious that this film is going to be different from most.
It is a brutal and violent way to kick-start the film, but one knows that the real base for the story is to come and the intrigue has kicked in from early on.
When the sequence involving the bear attack occurs, Inarritu paces, allows Glass to become used to his surroundings and takes his time for it to happen. We know that the bear is going to arrive but the build-up for the scene is crafted with such tension and fear that one queries how we as viewers will cope when the fight to the death is displayed.
When that does arrive, unpleasant to view, one feels compelled to see how on earth one can escape from that.
As Glass discreetly reaches for the weaponry that he will use against this creature and the ferocity of the attack is expressed amid Glass’s desperate attempts to deliver the fatal blow, this is no longer Michael Keaton arguing with Edward Norton on a theatre stage.
This is new territory for Inarritu and proof that he is just as adept at the western genre as has been with his humanist dramas of the past.
Inarritu continues to display a talent for action as the film progresses, specifically in one jaw-dropping sequence where Glass, under threat from Arikara Native Americans, escapes potential death by riding his horse…off a cliff.
Once down there, an injured but alive Glass manages to take shelter from the uncompromising weather by slicing open his deceased companion and sleeping inside its carcass, thus helping the film’s case as a sound example of detailing survival.
DiCaprio, arguably our generation’s Jack Nicholson, is on impressive form yet again, pushing himself in a gruelling and physically challenging performance of a man who loses everything and is determined to make his adversary atone.
Just watching the scene where a helpless Glass is forced to watch his son die at the hands of Fitzgerald is a testament as to how some form of memorability and entertainment can be obtained from a DiCaprio performance.
It is through watching Glass on his journey and seeing what he goes through that one feels that the more we see him go through the hells that he endures, the more we demand for him to get his man by the end.
Whether swimming for his life to escape bloodthirsty fighters or cauterizing neck wounds, Glass does not go through an easy ride but it is the diversity of his journey that grabs hold of our attention. The journey ultimately culminates in the climactic confrontation between hero and villain where even the most loved up of Tom Hardy fans might want to think about where their allegiances lie.
Brutal, bloody, barbaric, vicious, gory, unrelenting yet a wholly enjoyable cinematic experience, The Revenant is well-acted, well-directed and without doubt the best North American film since The Grand Budapest Hotel.