By Cameron (Bath, ME, US)
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Last year I watched the trailer for Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant, a blockbuster starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. I wasn’t enthused, initially. I thought to myself, there Leo goes again, grabbing at that Academy Award like he did with J. Edgar and The Wolf of Wall Street. Seeing the trailer for yet another real-life period film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I felt uneasy. When I saw the film my cynicism disappeared.

DiCaprio portrays Hugh Glass, a guide to a fur trapping expedition in the Dakotas where the Arikari Indians roam. Conflict emerges between the trappers and Indians. While Glass and his half-Pawnee son, Hawk, hunt in the woods, a war band of Arikari attacks the camp.

Spread thin by the ambush, the trapper camp moves on foot toward their outpost. Conflict becomes worse when Glass is attacked by a grizzly whose cub he had the misfortune of coming between. Glass becomes a weighted burden for the small group and trapper John Fitzgerald—played by Tom Hardy—elects they kill Glass. Captain Andrew Henry offers money for anyone who stays behind with Glass while the group travels back to the outpost. Fitzgerald, Hawk, and a young Jim Bridger volunteer.

Once the trappers leave, Fitzgerald tries to suffocate Glass when Hawk intervenes. Fitzgerald stabs Hawk in front of Glass and hides his body. Fitzgerald leaves Glass for dead in a shallow grave and he rustles the remaining supplies and Bridger, telling him they’re surrounded by Arikari and need to escape.

Glass wills himself out of the grave with great exertion. His back is dashed and his hide is torn and scratched, his leg is broken. He says goodbye to his son and crawls through the wilderness to the Missouri River. There, he crudely treats his wounds with flint and gunpowder and ensues on foot. There, the film’s premise begins.

Audiences can interpret the genre of The Revenant as a revenge chase film, or an action-adventure. The audience will split between those who like to gaze at the scenery and symbolism, and others will just appreciate the action bits. I think both audiences will be satisfied by the film.

The cinematography is beautiful: even twenty years ago nobody would have been able to shoot the film like artists are capable of today – the dimly lighted rooms, the outside landscapes at night time, the on-location forest setting. Twenty years ago it was far more difficult to haul film equipment into a wilderness location. Now, equipment like cameras and dollies and jibs is lighter, more compact. Emmanuel Lubezki is the cinematographer for the film. He has many awards behind him for his innovative techniques: long, drawn-out sequences of motion, few to no cuts and all seamlessly in between the moving imagery.

Critics have acclaimed Lubezki for his work in last year’s Birdman, a film that is almost one long, drawn out shot. In The Revenant, the film opens on one long sequence, the camera following the company of fur trappers in battle against the Arikari. It’s visually breathtaking. Lubezki is redefining what we are capable of cinematically.

Early on, I was skeptical over the Leo hype, and I had assumed privately he’d won this year’s Academy Award for Leading Role mostly from popular demand. When I saw his level of realism and commitment in the film, I realized how wrong I had been. He has no dialogue in most of the film; most of his motivations are conveyed by his performance and the visuals it accompanies. He does it with a masterful competence, and it makes perfect sense he has been trained to act this genuinely his whole life. The whole leading cast is a very talented group of actors. The real Indians they hired to play the Arikari added an invaluable layer of authenticity. The whole film has a sort of raw authenticity, like when blood, dirt, or someone’s breath lands on the camera lens.

Director Alejandro Iñárittu splices in a lot of visually stunning, intriguing shots. Viewers are still disputing over the meaning behind them, like shots of overhead trees. Seashells appear in one of Glass’ visions, and the image of the seashells match the spiral drawing on a canteen which plays a major role later in the film. The director composes competently a dark, gritty, intriguing world that heals and punishes. The film binds rugged survivalism and spirituality.

The filmmakers execute a tone for the film based on Native American myth. Our main character acts based on his Pawnee roots. He keeps moving, guided by the vision of his family.

I recommend the film to anybody who is interested in seeing it. I haven’t seen anyone who has left the film with nothing to say about it.

As long as there is public attention for well-made films, this one should hold up.

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