by Coop Cooper
Every year I find at least a handful of movies that surprise me enough to earn my highest rating. It’s always a short list but it takes special mixture of originality, superior storytelling, spot on acting and spectacle for a movie like “The Revenant” to come along and surpass all expectations.
Based on a true story from the 1820’s, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-breed Pawnee son (Forrest Goodluck) leads a party of fur trappers through the bitter cold of the American wilderness when they are attacked by marauding natives. Forced to leave most of their haul behind, the party flees for their outpost and Glass is mauled by a grizzly along the way. Unable to carry him further, the Captain (Domhnall Gleeson) offers a reward to those who stay behind to care for Glass until he either heals or expires. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) stays behind but betrays Glass by killing his son and leaving Glass for dead. Despite his grave injuries, Glass somehow survives and makes his way hundreds of miles across dangerous country to track down Fitzgerald and get his revenge.
This film is a wonder to behold even from a filmmaker’s perspective. Shot almost entirely on snow-covered mountains, using ONLY TWO sizes of wide-angle lenses (that still boggles my mind) and filming many scenes in one long, continuous shot, director Alejandro González Iñárritu had his work cut out for him. Even under comfortable conditions, this type of filming would have been extremely strenuous, but Iñárritu and his crew rose to the challenge. Although some of the crew have since complained the conditions were too dangerous and Iñárritu expected them to risk their lives in order to achieve the shots, this film will go down in history as one of the most incredibly photographed motion pictures of all time. I feel sorry for the crew of “Mad Max: Fury Road” because while that was also a near-impossible filming achievement, I think “The Revenant” may have one-upped them. Essentially, all the suffering paid off.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a Leonardo DiCaprio fan. I never thought he was as versatile of an actor as he wanted to be and not quite as talented as his adoring fans claimed – and I still believe that to a degree. However, persistence pays off and I think he has potentially earned his Oscar for going to extreme lengths to prove himself in this film. Some might say he is trying too hard, but after merely imagining the conditions he had to work under in order to complete “The Revenant”, I have a newfound respect for the man. Any vegetarian who will eat a raw buffalo liver for a role while spending 100% of his screen time in below-freezing conditions has my admiration.
Hardy is not to be discounted either. His performance here eclipses that of his other groundbreaking role in “Mad Max: Fury Road” earlier this year and I hope he will earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy for his effort in “The Revenant”.
I couldn’t talk about this movie without mentioning the transcendent cinematography of Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezski. Most of the shots were achieved with heavy handheld cameras which were constantly on the move (he camera operators must’ve been some of the most fit people in the world). While I didn’t care for Iñárritu’s “Birdman”, I was extremely impressed with Lubeski’s cinematography for which Lubezski won the Oscar. He used similar techniques while filming “Children of Men”, “The New World” and “Gravity” among others. My only concern is that Lubezski’s outstanding work will become passe with overuse. It’s such a distinctive and revolutionary style, I’m afraid it will be imitated into the ground within the next five years and discarded for a more traditional approach to camerawork.
“The Revenant” now occupies my #2 spot overall among the best movies of the year, just behind “Mad Max: Fury Road”. It has already won the Golden Globe for ‘Best Motion Picture – Drama’ and will be poised to win the Best Picture Academy Award very soon. It is best watched in a theater to fully appreciate the wonder of its exemplary photography, so see it there before it is banished to video forever.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars