Will ‘The Revenant’ bring DiCaprio Oscar gold?
Before I start this review, I should probably declare that I’m a huge Leonardo DiCaprio fan. He’s been my favorite actor for more than two decades now, and I’m pretty sure he can do no wrong when it comes to performance. So, with my bias firmly established, let me tell you a little about The Revenant.
DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, an 1820s frontiersman leading a party of fur trappers through the American wilderness. Glass is accompanied by his “half-breed” son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) whose Native roots seem to only be an issue for John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a hot-tempered trapper who always proclaims he’s just in this for the money. Things seem to be moving along as best they can with the constant threat of Native Americans or the French, but everything turns upside down when Glass is brutally attacked by a grizzly bear. With his throat slashed, he’s unable to speak, and his companions attempt to transport his mangled body back to the fort, but the extra burden proves too strong for their leader, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). Faced with a dilemma, he agrees to let Fitzgerald stay behind with the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) to make sure Glass gets a proper burial when he undoubtedly succumbs to his wounds. Fitzgerald has other plans, and soon betrays Glass, killing Hawk right in front of his eyes and persuading Bridger to flee the scene. Glass proves to be tougher than anyone had imagined, and he manages to survive alone in the wilderness, fueled by a thirst for revenge.
The thing you’re probably going to hear most about this movie is how brutal it is. From an opening scene involving flying arrows to a dramatic moment when Glass rides a horse right off the side of a cliff, the action in this film isn’t like the explosion-fest sequences in other movies. This is gritty and realistic, sometimes stomach-turningly so. The bear attack is so tense and graphic that I think I held my breath through the whole thing. By the time Glass was cutting open a dead horse so he could sleep inside it Tauntaun-style, I felt nearly as exhausted as the character. Lots of actors suffer for their art, but at times, it was like Alejandro González Iñárritu wanted to give us 156 minutes of beating the shit out of Leonardo DiCaprio.
While the film is unquestioningly brutal, it’s also beautiful. I love a good revenge story, and Emmanuel Lubezki’s visuals provide an excellent stage for the plot. The shots of vast, natural landscapes are both serene and overwhelming at the same time, which really makes us feel Glass’s isolation. Films about pioneers “taming” the west are usually far more glossy than this desaturated, dangerous wasteland, and those visuals really add here.
This is not to say that The Revenant is without flaws. The runtime is long, and you feel every one of those 156 minutes, in part because you’re waiting for Glass to get his revenge on Fitzgerald, but also because shots of the moon or a forest seem to go on for a few seconds too long. The camera also lingers on the brutal moments, getting so close that DiCaprio’s breath fogs up the lens several times in what becomes a creative way to keep the audience right there with him during the action. Still, there were a few instances where I felt a bit like Kyle watching The Passion of the Christ on South Park, and I wondered just how brutal things needed to be to get the point across.
And that brings me back to the beginning of this review: my undying admiration for DiCaprio. Dude deserves an Oscar! He’s deserved one for years, to the point where him not winning one has become a meme. He deserved one for Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, he deserved one for Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, and he’s been more than deserving of the honor many, many times throughout his long career. If The Revenant is the film that finally gets him that statue, I’ll be thrilled—hell, there might even be tears—but that doesn’t necessarily mean I believe this is his best film. I went into the theater wanting to love The Revenant, wanting to shout from the rooftops that it was the best movie of the year and that this would absolutely be the one that earned DiCaprio an Oscar, but I’d be lying to myself if I said that was entirely true. It’s a very good film, and both DiCaprio and Hardy give us the goods, but unfortunately, The Revenant is more of a TKO than a straight knock out.