Movie Review: ‘THE REVENANT’ – Real American Beauty


Preston Barta // Features Editor

THE REVENANT | 157 min | R
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson

Iñárritu, DiCaprio shape relentless tale of survival

A lot has been said and written about this film, especially regarding its troubled production. The travails of cast and crew serve as a fitting prelude to the experience that is THE REVENANT.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s follow-up to last year’s best picture Oscar winner, BIRDMAN, is as beautiful as it is brutal, offering audiences a rare and unforgettable chance to experience the horrors of losing someone you love while facing the dangers of the wilderness.

Set in 1823 Montana and South Dakota, THE REVENANT opens with images from a dream. We see fractured memories showing the peaceful life of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a frontiersman working with a quasi-military hunting party of trappers. The serene is soon followed by the coldness of reality.

We awake to the soothing sounds of water as we follow a long tracking shot evoking nature’s splendor with a nearly meditative quality. Then a rifle comes into frame, plunging the narrative into a world of devastation and blood.

The opening sequence sets the tone for THE REVENANT in a big way, impeccably capturing the harrowing circumstances Glass and these men endure on a daily basis. They live in constant fear of sickness, weather and attacks by natives out for their findings and supplies.

Leonardo DiCaprio as frontiersman Hugh Glass in THE REVENANT. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Leonardo DiCaprio as frontiersman Hugh Glass in THE REVENANT. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

As history has shown, exploring and settling the frontier was no picnic. It was a constant struggle to survive and at times blood flowed deep and wide. However, the film does not intimately delve into the moral aspects of the brutal injustice Glass suffers or the cruel exploitation of the Native Americans. Iñárritu plays THE REVENANT smart and keeps his distance as if he were documenting predatory wildlife.

Just like the film’s soon-to-be infamous bear attack sequence, most of the film’s violence comes in the form of self-defense. Be it protecting oneself, fighting for one’s child or defending territory and its resources, every drop of blood earns its presence. Even the film’s antagonist is driven by fear, not hate. Without spoiling the details, this character’s defects were caused by a traumatizing experience in the past. Though brutal in presentation, there is simple logic to why the characters, man and beast alike, act the way they do.

DiCaprio is a sure shot to win best actor come this year’s Academy Awards. He’s so consistently impressive that he’ll make you love the parts you hated, and there are many scenes that’ll leave your head buried in your hands. DiCaprio shows Glass’ desperation, hopelessness and endless pain exceedingly well, transporting you into the film like no other film he’s done before.

As a fellow fur trapper named John Fitzgerald, Tom Hardy (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) is equally as powerful. Both DiCaprio and Hardy are two of Hollywood’s most intense actors, and it’s astonishing what they can accomplish without words.

On a technical level, the film is completed with breathtaking cinematography and a haunting musical score that strengthens the story’s intensity and emotional core. The imagery, framed by Emmanuel Lubezki (BIRDMAN, GRAVITY), oozes with atmosphere and is striking enough to move the viewer deeply and keep you seated for its mesmerizing journey.

While disguised as a tale of revenge, the heart of THE REVENANT is a tale of survival. It’s an ode to the visceral beauty of nature and the relentless, savage force that is life.

Grade: A+

THE REVENANT opens tonight at participating special screening theaters and opens wide tomorrow (1/8).

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About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.