The Revenant  is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s epic cinematic follow-up to his 2014 Best Picture-winning Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The film follows the true story of Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who seeks revenge against the man who leaves him for dead after being mauled by a bear (amongst other things).
The Struggle Is Real. At this point, it’s well known that the production for this film fell under some harsh conditions, mostly due to weather, which left some crew members to walk away and many actors to admit it was the hardest film they’ve been a part of. Those involved do a terrific job all around, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving a performance mostly filled with yelps, grins, and groans as he struggles through the snowy mountains to survive, but a performance that is wholly engaged and committed. Tom Hardy’s performance, however, is what really captivates and steals the show, while the rest of the ensemble does strong work and some individuals have exceptional moments of their own throughout. Everyone who stuck with this picture through to the end certainly did so with grit and determination.
Survival Is Tedious, As Is The Run Time. Another issue that plagued this production was the necessary circumstances to shoot entirely with natural light, at times for well-choreographed extended takes, which while was an enormous endeavor during the making of leaves pure beauty for those of us sitting in the nice warm cinemas to enjoy. The cinematography is gorgeous, the natural tableaus are beautiful, and the overall production quality on display is undeniably pristine. Unfortunately, that doesn’t save the whole thing from overstaying its welcome with a lengthy run time and some very noticeably slow sections. When the going gets, everything is masterful and engaging. When it comes to slowly dragging through the snow and having spiritual introspective moments, things become more hit and miss. The whole thing kind of feels like if The Tree of Life  was an action/adventure western, and honestly as crazy as the story is it doesn’t feel like a story that’s necessarily worth telling (at least cinematically).
Fog on the Lens. It’s all clearly deliberate, allowing time for the audience to absorb the crazy situations and admire the incredible drive that this unfortunate individual had to muster to get through it all. The camera gets close to the actors, it lingers on painful moments and ensures the audience is aware of the damage, and pulls us into Glass’ mind to make for a much more spiritual journey than one might be expecting. The biggest issue is that while it tries to go deep and become an emotional experience, it’s all just too shallow as the thing it is. And the thing is simply…….a movie. The long takes, the beautiful cinematography, the music, it all feels like a movie. It’s all a passive observation rather than engaging participation. The camera gets close to the actors so much so that there’s constant fog on the lens from their heavy breathing. This happens consistently enough that it’s clearly not an issue for those in charge, and if anything was a conscious decision to let it be. While it proves that these actors are living and breathing in a cold environment and giving it tall in the roles, it mostly just reminds us that this is all for show and is not to be taken seriously. The film even ends on a moment with a character seemingly staring directly into the lens, possibly straight at the audience as if to convey, “can you believe you just witnessed all that? It’s totally all real!” Snowflakes, water droplets, breathing, and dirt, all on the lens to prove it’s there and it really exists. This story is based on a real story. This film was made with real people in a real environment under real difficult circumstances.
”God Giveth, God taketh away.” This is not to say that this is a bad film. Technically it’s terrific, the performances are worth talking about, but the whole thing doesn’t sit right for what it wants to achieve. Alongside a pace and run time that doesn’t do any favors, this comes out as a weaker installment in Iñárritu’s filmography and only a technical marvel among the rest of this year’s offerings. Nonetheless, this film will do more than well all around and is certainly better than the typical studio fare that gets squatted out all too often anymore.