Director: Alejandro G Inarritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
We meet Leonardo DiCaprio as soon as Alejandro G Inarritu’s The Revenant begins. He is out in the wilderness, tracking his next prey when the hunter becomes the hunted. The setting is 1823 America, DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass and his colleagues are fur trappers and a group of Arikara Indians attack them to save their lands from this wilful rape.
The battle scene is a thing of beauty. Camera tracks a man till he is killed by either arrows or bullets; it then picks the man’s assailant. That is till he is felled too. The dance of death continues – it is savage, visceral and sears into your soul. You are five minutes into the film and your heart rate is already increasing; DiCaprio and Inarritu will ensure it is never back to normal in this uncompromising saga.
Before we move on, here’s talking about the elephant in the room: Will DiCaprio win that much-awaited Academy Award for playing Glass? The answer is he should, he must. He is the beating heart of this film, its piece de resistance. He delivers a mature and committed performance as a man bent on vengeance. He is largely non-verbal in the film, showcasing anger and desperation solely through his eyes and physical movements, DiCaprio ensures his raw and visceral performance will not be forgotten for years. The fact that Oscar watchers are putting their money on him will come as great news to his fans.
And then, of course, you know he went through hell while shooting the film, with rest of the cast and crew. He ate that famous raw bison liver, slept in a horse carcass, wore pelts and practically crawled through half the film. Academy loves real life stories (check), suffering protagonists (double check) and actors who suffered while making the movie. Hell, give the man that Oscar already!
Coming back to the movie which is also nominated in the best film category, The Revenant is based on a true story of an early 19th century fur trapper, Glass. Out on an expedition in the mountains with a team and his half-Native American son, he is mauled by a grizzly bear. The team’s captain (Domhnall Gleeson) asks three members to stay with Glass and give him a proper burial. Tom Hardy’s John Fitzgerald, a blackguard, is having none of it. He leaves the still-alive Glass in a shallow grave so that he can join the team and claim his reward.
How Glass would crawl his way back to the camp to exact his revenge forms the crux of the film. The Revenant works as a film on men and their offspring, as a good old vengeance film and man against nature saga. Tall conifers that seem to be piercing the sky, endless mountains test human endurance and a soul-destroying cold permeates this film. The men who populate this gloriously beautiful yet pitilessly harsh area are equally ruthless, if not more.
In fact, the setting of the film on the edge of civilisation frees the chief characters from the normal rules that guide society. The men are macho and stoic, burly and unforgiving. If Glass has his humanity still intact, his connection with his family being the reason, Hardy’s Fitzgerald crossed over to the dark side a long time back. He lost part of his scalp to the Indians (called Rees in the film) a long time back along with his sanity. Glass’ Native American family never endeared him to Fitzgerald and when he gets the chance, he makes him pay for it. Method actor that Hardy is, he makes his character such a threat with wild-eyed stares, mumbled dialogues and an air of menace.
Another member of supporting cast who delivers beautifully is Will Poulter. As part of the team which was supposed to guard Glass, he is the unwilling accomplice in deserting him. He carries the burden of the guilt throughout the film and seems to be on the brink of tears mostly.
However, it is thanks to Inarritu’s craftsmanship and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s skill that the film has a haunting beauty. The director insisted on shooting the film in natural daylight and it pays off.
And then there are the memorable scenes – the opening shot is just one of them. The one where the bear attacks DiCaprio is another that looks ‘normal’ in the scheme of things. Glass is out for another day at work when a mama bear attacks him, mauls him and comes back for more. Or the scene where DiCaprio removes the entails of his dead horse, strips off his clothes and climbs in has that quality that arrests you. The audience cannot look away even if it wants to.
In all these scenes, you are as much the part of the action as the cast. When blood is shed, a few drops fall on the camera too. The frosty breath of characters fogs up the camera and makes you experience the chill. The way Lubezki’s camera captures the unspoilt vistas of 1823 America stays with you long after the film is over.
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The film nominated for 12 Oscars will hopefully make one man and his legion of fans very happy. For the commitment DiCaprio brings to the film, it will be well deserved.
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The author tweets @JSB17