I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in this film. If I somehow survived an onslaught from a bunch of hostile Native Americans, then I probably would have frozen to death in the snow instead, or at least got gangrene or frostbite and lost all of my limbs until I looked like a pillow. What’s certain is that I definitely wouldn’t have withstood the type of mauling Leonardo DiCaprio receives from a now infamous bear. He takes an absolute battering in The Revenant, a film that does everything it can to show his acting ability and willingness to drag himself through blood and mud for an exhaustingly long runtime. If he doesn’t win the Oscar he’ll be thinking this was the worst camping trip ever.
The Revenant is based on true events that took place in 1823 Montana and South Dakota. Legendary frontiersman and obvious hard-arse Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) fights for survival after being cheese grated by Yogi Bear and left for dead by some of his fellow hunters. Glass is naturally rather distressed by all this, particularly the actions of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), thus a film about survival gradually evolves into a story of vengeance and justice.
It’s essentially a thirty-minute plot dragged over two and a half hours – I always assumed that’d be the case. But after the first few shots it becomes clear why. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu wants each moment to linger and draw us into the environment. Slow, upward pans of winter-beaten trees and close-ups of calm rivers probably make up half of the film (not really). There are also numerous scenes that are filmed as one continuous shot, a noticeable takeaway from Iñárritu’s previous Oscar winner, Birdman. Perhaps he thought he could bag a cinematography award if Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture all went tits up. It certainly contests Mad Max: Fury Road on the artistry front.
Then, of course, there’s the bear scene. It’s painful to watch, and it lasts longer than you’d expect. The critics either side of me who, up to that point, had kept on their best ‘go on, impress me’ faces, were suddenly wincing and flinching as Leo’s body was being peeled like an orange. His face conveniently stays intact.
The fact that all this is filmed in natural light means the gory details aren’t spared. There’s no shying away from stabs and truncations. This would be a horror film if it had a different soundtrack.
But what most people want to know is whether this is will finally be DiCaprio’s year to claim that elusive Oscar. He missed out as a millionaire stock god who gets to shag Margot Robbie (poor him) in The Wolf of Wall Street, and he’s been snubbed for other great performances in films like The Aviator and Blood Diamond. But is this the one? I’m not so sure. If he wins it will be primarily down to the sheer level of dedication he’s put into this role. It’s gruelling for him. He drags himself through treacherous terrains, finds himself in potentially embarrassing positions and most likely bursts a few blood vessels pulling strenuous faces. It’s a mammoth performance. But is he trying too hard? I preferred Tom Hardy.
The focus should really be on the fact that this is another cinematic feat for Iñárritu. It might not lend itself to repeat viewings, but it’s certainly an experience I won’t forget. I felt cold, beaten and exhausted, a bit like Leo at the end of Titanic. There was plenty of room on that plank, Winslet!
Words by Chris Edwards
Written for Live for Films
Chris’s Twitter @CMEcontent