“The Revenant” is like shooting Patron tequila for three days straight: exhausting with a side of cringing.
But we all know you’ll be talking about the experience for the next 10 years. No film is as visceral, brutal and well acted.
If Leo doesn’t win this year, it’s never gonna happen.
“Based on a true story” – never have words been more loosely applied. The short of it: Hugh Glass was an actual 18th century explorer in the U.S. mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead. Bones protruding and skin rotting, he crawled 200 miles across what should’ve been an icy tomb.
The long of it: “The Revenant’s” Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is motivated by more than just a desire to live, according to Michael Punke’s novel by the same name. The dude wants revenge.
Fellow frontiersman John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) did him wrong, and the piper needs payin’. No freezing temperatures in the Louisiana Purchase wilderness or impending attacks by an Arikara chief (Anthony Starlight) in search of his daughter Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o) will keep an angry gringo down.
The story and themes should feel familiar to any fan of westerns. I can just see Clint Eastwood in this role 30 years ago. But in DiCaprio’s hands, what results is a spectacular performance incomparable to anything else this year (2015, that is). Granted, I contend he out-acted everyone else with his last role too in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
I stand by it: Leo’s competition that year, Matthew McConaughey, didn’t actually perform any differently or better. His rather caricatured charm in “The Dallas Buyers Club” just served a greater purpose, which speaks more to writing than his acting.
DiCaprio commits more to this role than anything he’s ever done before. All the celebrity gossip seems to support that, but more importantly it’s all over his face. That ain’t makeup; it’s becoming a character. This isn’t your clean-shaven Gatsby, pretty-boy Romeo or heartthrob Jack. This guy, this Hugh Glass, he’s crazy. He’ll do anything to fend off the elements and escape the reaper’s scythe. I buy it completely.
His character does unthinkable things, and so too does DiCaprio. His facial expressions alone could haunt the most hardened of souls. And when he attempts to scream for help, unable to do so following a grizzly claw to the throat, the sounds erupting from his pained body don’t sound fake.
I implore you Oscar, it’s time. He ate actual raw bison liver, filmed in grueling Canadian locales and slept in animal carcasses (apparently more than one).
He’s suffered enough, so just give him that golden white whale so he can finally do a superhero movie without fear of critical reprimand.
This is DiCaprio at his best, but don’t forget the other half of Leo’s adventure in the snow, director Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Fresh off writing, directing and best picture wins for “Birdman” (let’s not forget the 2007 best pic nom for “Babel”), it’s not difficult to imagine him sweeping again. But unlike “Birdman” – an acid trip of avant-garde cinema, with its single tracking shot and imaginary friend haunting the protagonist. “The Revenant” feels completely different.
It’s not funny at all. The cinematography is spectacular, but that’s more a credit to picturesque landscape and incredibly framed shots, not excessive tracking.
And while “Birdman” moves well at a two-hour runtime, “The Revenant” tacks on an extra half hour. Luckily Iñárritu’s films, sometimes slow, are never dull, and always move the story forward.
And let’s not forget the gore – it just adds to anxiety of it all in the best possible way.
I also must applaud Iñárritu and co-writer Mark L. Smith for doing more than relying on stereotypes of Native Americans. They don’t shy away from the horrors of the time, but no one group is vilified (only Hardy’s Fitzgerald). It’s all just the backdrop of our story.
As for the headline, remember when Luke Skywalker spent time on the ice planet Hoth in “The Empire Strikes Back”? He fended off a creature with his trusty lightsaber, and then Han Solo arrived just in time to warm him with the insides of a tauntaun.
Try not to think of that when you watch “The Revenant.” I’ve said too much. If you can handle the stress, this might be an incredible ride. If not, I hear there’s a new “Star Wars.”
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