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The Revenant review: An enthralling spectacle

The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio is a staggering cinematic experience.

movie reviews Updated: Feb 27, 2016 19:00 IST
Rashid Irani
The Revenant
There may not be another film as awe-inspiring as The Revenant anytime soon

The Revenant
Direction: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
Rating: 5/5

It’s a staggering cinematic experience. Mexican-born director Alejandro Inarritu’s follow-up to last year’s Oscar winning Birdman, The Revenant chronicles the true story of fur trapper-cum-scout in early 19th century North America.

Under attack from a band of Native Americans and left for dead by his comrades after being mauled by a grizzly, the frontiersman (DiCaprio) somehow survives and sets out across the frozen wilderness to wreak vengeance on the traitor (Hardy) who not only abandoned him but also murdered his mixed-race son. (Forrest Goodluck).

The rest of the gruelling two-and-a-half-hour narrative, culled by the director and his co-scenarist Mark L. Smith from a novel by Michael Punke, recreates the protagonist’s trek into the heart of darkness.

Dragging his brutalised body across hundreds of miles of inhospitable winter terrain, he inches to the safety of the traders’ outpost… and eventual redemption.

Watch the trailer here

A notorious perfectionist, Inarritu insisted on shooting the picture in chronological order using only natural light. The $130-plus million epic was filmed in 20-below-zero temperatures at remote locations in Canada and Argentina.

The director’s flair for explosive imagery is evident in his unflinching meditation on men and nature. Acknowledging the influence of Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975) and the visionary work of Werner Herzog, Inarritu laces the tale with oneiric moments such as the scene in which his late wife appears as an apparition hovering above him while he sleeps.

Read: Revenant review: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-worthy feat of strength

Intercutting ferocious action set pieces — the opening attack by an indigenous tribe or the no-holds-barred climactic face-off — with poignant gestures like petting the flank of a dead horse whose hollowed carcass was used as a sleeping bag during a blizzard, Inarritu imbues the landscape with an aura of mystery and mysticism.

The contribution of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki cannot be overestimated. His astonishing visual artistry (a meteor streaking across the sky here, flaming arrows raining down upon the trappers there) deserves to be acknowledged this weekend at the Oscars. Here’s hoping Lubezki snags the trophy for a record breaking consecutive third time following previous wins for Gravity (2014) and Birdman (2015).

The hyper-realistic mama bear assault is one of several unsettling interludes not meant for the faint of heart.

The Titanic heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio is almost unrecognisable. Face burrowed in anguish and his long hair covered in snow, the actor barely speaks. Grunting and wailing in lieu of words, he delivers a performance of overpowering physical intensity. Cautioned that it would be foolhardy to confront his nemesis in such a weather-beaten condition, he summons up reserves of fortitude and snaps at his interlocutor, “I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I done it already”. A Best Actor Academy Award surely beckons.

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This enthralling spectacle is best savoured on the big screen. It seems unlikely that there will be another film as awe-inspiring as The Revenant anytime soon.

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