'The Revenant' Is Both Unquestionably Unpleasant and Incredibly Beautiful

by J.C. Macek III

16 June 2016

Iñárritu immense skills with the camera eye, taking in the expansive, cruel landscape and harsh, cold mountain ranges in an appreciation that rivals the best nature paintings.
 
cover art

The Revenant

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Anderson

(20th Century Fox)
US DVD: 19 Apr 2016
UK DVD: 6 Jun 2016

There are those so caught up in the true story behind Hugh Glass’ nightmarish 1823 ordeal and so hung up on the differences in the film that they miss out on the high quality of The Revenant (2015). Conversely there are those who are so happy that Leonardo DiCaprio “finally” won an Academy Award for Best Actor that the historical aspects are almost completely lost on them.

Who is right in this argument? Well, to put it simply, the latter crowd is 100 percent correct. This isn’t a history lesson (although it does serve that purpose rather well), this is an American Epic Drama of historical fact and fiction and survival that has to work both as a narrative and an entertaining film.

The Revenant is most certainly “entertaining”, although it’s not exactly a terribly pleasant time at the movies. Our main character, Glass (DiCaprio), is attacked by hostile Native Americans, mauled by a bear, smothered, buried alive, left for dead in the middle of the tundra and is witness to the murder of his only son. Generally only one of these things can ruin your whole week, but they all happen to Glass in a single day.

This begins the nigh-impossible tale of Glass’ cross-country walk through frozen hostile territory with little to no help at all in the hopes of both survival and revenge.

While that is unquestionably unpleasant, the film can also be incredibly beautiful to witness. As directed by Alejandro Iñárritu, The Revenant shows its director’s immense skills with the camera eye, taking in the expansive, cruel landscape and harsh, cold mountain ranges in an appreciation that rivals some of the best nature paintings (e.g., Clyde Aspevig’s Shades of Ice and Blue, and Caspar David Friedrich’s Winter Landscape). Never before has the map of hell come off as quite this picturesque and breathtaking in film.

This is the magic of Iñárritu’s filmmaking. From the delirious visions of Glass to the nightmarish methods of survival to the intense scenes of battle, there is scarcely a frame of this film that isn’t awe-inspiring to behold.

Although the film excels in its most silent moments, due to the visuals and acting, the actors themselves are another reason this film is so good. The performances here are fantastic and that praise isn’t limited to DiCaprio alone. Domhnall Gleeson gives a commanding performance as the young Captain Henry, while Will Poulter delivers the pathos required to bring hapless Jim Bridger to life. While it’s true that DiCaprio does a great job in this film, displaying a gamut of emotions, it’s Tom Hardy who steals virtually every scene he is in as the despicable John Fitzgerald.

Hardy is believable and crafty in this difficult role and he manages to pull off a flawless accent that brings his multi-faceted character to life.

This is also no ordinary Western, in that the Native population is depicted as varied nations with multiple languages and different levels of aggression toward their trespassers. Glass himself is brought along not only as a scout but an interpreter. Likewise, the French are shown here with their own language and their own agendas. No single group is lionized or demonized. Individuals are treated as individuals with their own complexities and imperfections.

If The Revenant has any true flaw it’s that the film sometimes gets a bit too full of itself, especially in the area of drinking in the landscape and becomes a bit too slow now and then. To be sure, this is a drama that must be watched to be appreciated, never half-watched. However, even the most attentive viewer might find a few empty spaces in the carefully woven tapestry of The Revenant.

That’s not to say the film lacks action. This is, in no small part, both a survival and a revenge film, and there is no dearth of firefights, brutal conflict and furious anger during the substantial runtime of The Revenant.

The Blu Ray transfer of this film’s inaugural release is flawless, doing justice both to the extraordinary visuals and the fabulous surround sound that ranges from the quietest to the loudest moments. The Revenant on Blu Ray truly brings you there. While the transfer is worthy of this epic film, the extras really are not. Sure this film stands on its own and the single bonus feature, a documentary called A World Unseen helps to enhance the movie, one could be forgiven to expect a lot more for the list price of $39.99.

Regardless, The Revenant survives and has the staying power to stand up to multiple viewings. If you loved the film in the theater, the experience is hardly lessened by its viewing on Blu Ray. The ghost still walks.

The Revenant

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