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Review - The Revenant

By midlandsmovies, Jan 4 2016 09:22PM

The Revenant (2016) Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu

After the huge critical and commercial success of his “one-take” drama Birdman, Iñárritu brings his cool artistic eye to The Revenant, an historical tale set in 1823 Montana and South Dakota. Based upon the real life story of Hugh Glass, the movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson as American hunters in the 19th century wilderness.

The director’s cinematography can only be described as beautiful as he uses natural light with smatterings of real lens flare (no JJ Abrams flourishes here) to capture huge vistas and landscapes as well as incredible tender moments, close ups and the dirt, grime and flowing river water of the great outdoors. The bloody and brutal opening where the hunting group are ambushed by natives contains incredible tracking and panning shots in very long takes (a la Birdman) as the clans’ arrows fly past the viewers heads even without any flimsy 3-D added.

With the group on the run, the audience also has a chance to regain their breath to survey the injuries and deaths after many “I’m not sure how they filmed that” moments. Spectacularly simple to watch (the camera turns left and right to show actions in a realistic manner) yet exceptionally difficult to pull off, Iñárritu uses 360 degree camera rotation and Steadicams to show off the story amongst amazing natural locations.

The camera always makes itself invisible and just as the movie takes pause, DiCaprio’s Glass is savaged by a brown bear in a well shot (one-take again) and excruciatingly bloody encounter. With the life-threatening injuries taking its toll on the party, John Fitzgerald (Hardy) fights then kills Glass’s dual heritage son, Hawk, and leaves DiCaprio for dead, half buried in a makeshift grave.

Hardy has previously been scalped in these icy wastelands and the film instils multiple layers of paranoia as Hardy’s resentment of the injured DiCaprio develops into a terrible hatred forcing him to look over his shoulder for the indigenous tribes (and later Glass) on his trail.

DiCaprio slowly recovers from his injuries in agonising attempts to heal, walk and crawl with no provisions available and Iñárritu shows his plight in gory detail from hallucinations about his dead family to an encounter with a native who shares bison liver with him.

Superb support comes in the form of Will Poulter who portrays a conflicted child-like group member whose conscience conflicts with Hardy’s ruthlessness. The middle of the film slows the pace right down which is a slight shame given the long running time (156 minutes) but one could argue this simply reflects the slow and long winter journey the audience is on with Glass.

Visually stunning vistas combine with effective story beats (tribes and armies clash in the woods throughout) and DiCaprio also protects a native woman from rape and escapes in a riveting horseback sequence. These heroic-like moments are subdued by the survivalist nature of DiCaprio’s trek and he even has to climb ‘Tauntaun-like’ inside his dead horse for warmth. However, this scene is far more graphic than anything from that snow-based sequence in Star Wars and again shows the lengths he pushes himself to.

With the similarly icy Hateful Eight also released this month, the film may be a tad too long and drawn out in places but this endurance reflects the characters’ fight for survival and combines thrills with more tender moments in a hard-hitting expedition of a movie. The director brings nuance and refreshing ideas – the camera gets “fogged” by the actors’ warm breaths in the chilly air at times – but with a superb cast the film is just a log cabin away from setting up camp in Oscar territory.

8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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