The Revenant is a stunning fete of visual storytelling. While director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s (Birdman) plotline takes a rudimentary path, the cinematography on the other hand scales mountains, crosses lakes and combats bears in comparison. Emmanuel Lubezki conjures a cinematic masterpiece so awe inspiring, Picasso would have struggled even to dream about it. But like a rose, beneath the beauty there are sharp thorns… Lubezki’s cinematography manifests itself into a spectre and methodically wraps itself around you, drawing you into a world of vast tundra’s, death at every turn and a hell painted white. Wrongly has Revenant been relegated to a mere sideshow act to the ramblings of whether Leonardo DiCaprio will finally win an Oscar or not for his performance, for me on the other hand Lubezki’s work is the real star of the show. The Revenant is one of the best examples of visual storytelling in decades.
With 1820’s America as a backdrop and inspired by real-life events, Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass (Leo), a white frontiersman who after being mauled by a bear and helplessly seeing his son murdered, must heal and track down the man who did it. Standing in his way is starvation, hypothermia, drowning and Native Americans fighting for their land back. Fuelled by vengeance and the endurance of the human spirt, to survive Glass must kill, steal and sleep in the rotting carcass of a dead horse.
It would be difficult to talk Revenant and not mention Leo… after being snubbed by the Academy on numerous occasions for Best Actor; Wolf of Wall Street, Aviator and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, to the extent that it has almost become a running joke. Out of the ashes of a plateauing career, bursting forth like a phoenix, Revenant has been wildly cited as Leo’s greatest ever performance and undoubtedly his best chance at Oscar glory. Not surprising when you watch his emersion into the character of Hugh Grass and can’t help but draw comparisons with Daniel Day Lewis in There will be Blood. Each is haunting in the degree the actors would go to for their individual roles; Daniel went weeks without speaking to anyone, while Leo reportedly actually slept in a horse carcass for the role. While any grain of overthinking, Hollywood or ‘acting’ is stripped away from each of their performances and leaving only Daniel Plainview and Hugh Glass behind. It’s a massive compliment to be compared to Daniel Day Lewis who is probably the greatest living actor, but Leo’s performance is good enough to warrant it.
Rather bizarrely, especially considering he won an Oscar for directing Birdman, the weakest part of the film was Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s directing. The dialogue started off very clunky, while at 2h 46m, The Revenant is a sprawling film that stretches out as far as snow covered vistas in the film, which isn’t always a good thing. Long, drawn out and at times an agues watch, Iñárritu would have benefited Revenant more if he cut the film down by at least 30 minutes, making it tighter and more fluid. However, he should be applauded for the shear carnage of the opening sequences as the Arikara fight tooth and nail with the frontiersman. The scene is so chaotic and full of intricate camera movements; I couldn’t help but reminded by the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Glass’s dream sequences were a welcome surliest divergence from the harsh bittiness of the rest of the film and leant itself majestically when watched on a cinematic screen. The Revenant as a whole is an epic poem of savagery, endurance and impenetrable darkness, an honest meditation of America’s ruthless past.