Review: The Revenant – Di Caprio’s Oscar hopes back from the dead?

The Revenant has had much excitement circling around it, ever since it was announced following writer/director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s 2015 Academy Awards success with his previous film Birdman. Set in the 1820’s American Rockies, featuring a band of trappers played by the likes of Leo himself, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter, The Revenant opens with an incredibly intense scene, our first introduction to the savage brutality demonstrated throughout the rest of the film. With a fairly sizeable step away from Birdman’s comedic charm and bouts of fantastical elements, this film certainly isn’t for those who tend towards the squeamish side of the fence. Following certain rumours about the shooting conditions of this films and various acts of ‘research’ done by Di Caprio in particular, but also some of the supporting cast as well, this film expertly captures the danger and hardships faced if things go wrong in the punishing snowy wilderness of the setting.

The setting, however brutal, is stunning, and provides an incredible backdrop for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, an Oscar-winner for the past two years for his work on Birdman and Gravity, to play with. He really does the setting justice by establishing some beautiful long-shots really showing the scale of the environment, yet also provides some incredibly up-close-and-personal footage of the actors, really drawing us into their struggles and hardships with some almost painful shots.  Because all the natural environments provide such astounding photography however, there are elements of CGI that do seem – however impressive – incredibly unnatural and distracting (you’ll know the bit I mean). On the whole, though, these shots do not draw our attention away for long. The scenery and journey of Hugh Glass (Di Caprio) are beautifully interjected with a score that probably has a total run time of around 10 minutes. Yet, every time it shows itself, it simply adds to the atmosphere with some fairly sudden and abrupt entrances and exits and some breath-taking pauses that add to the tension tremendously.

There are some absolutely fantastic performances displayed in this film. Di Caprio’s, however, may not be enough to win him that ever elusive Oscar. He provides a fantastic depiction of a driven man in incredible pain (emotional and physical), yet it never extends to more than that. Tom Hardy and Will Poulter have some fantastic chemistry in their scenes together, with Hardy providing an absolutely stand-out performance as Fitzgerald, the man whom Glass makes the sole purpose of what’s left of his life, with Domhnall Gleeson providing a fantastic addition to his plethora of mainstream versatility shown this year.

However, despite the numerous positives surrounding this film, there are areas in which it does seem to fall a bit short. The pain that Di Caprio’s character shows is somewhat dampened by the constant flip flopping of his being injured and his subsequent, seemingly miraculous, ability to perform some incredible feat, regardless of these injuries. This is fairly distracting for the viewer and is not the only problem with this film. Di Caprio’s pain is in some areas rather overacted. There has obviously been some hype around this film regarding his Oscar, and you do get a sense that he is desperate to win it, yet this doesn’t always do him credit. During the film, I never felt a sense of sympathy towards his character, just a slight hint of cringe-worthy vacancy. This is not all down to Di Caprio, but also party down to Inarritu’s direction. Despite these negatives it is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining story, but one that certainly requires the audience to be in the right mood. It will leave you feeling battered, bruised and definitely exhausted, but it will also leave you fulfilled.

Matt Bolland

Image courtesy of 20 Century Fox

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