FILM REVIEW: The Revenant
One of the more interesting and far out stories to have emerged from the making of The Revenant is that Leonardo DiCaprio eats raw bison liver on camera. Directing this tale of Hugh Glass, a fur-trapper struggling to survive in the snowy depths of the Midwest at the start of the 19th century, Alejandro González Iñárritu isn’t one for taking the easy fakery computerised route.
Filming only in natural light in sub-zero remote locations, the 52-year-old director put cast and crew through punishing extremes. Complaints about conditions on set made the film one of the most talked about last year. Producers rebuffed the most outlandish of such reports but there’s no doubt The Revenant was a tough and demanding shoot. This is the kind of film in which sinking one’s teeth into an uncooked bovine organ amounts to just another day at the office.
But the main reason that this scene feels so convincing is that it looks that way. From the gloopy substance of DiCaprio’s eating material to the disgust that flinches on the face of this confirmed vegetarian as he swallows, the moment gives off an unappetizing whiff of authenticity. The same is true of the rest of the film. In an era when so much on-screen spectacle is magicked up by computers, the picture has a fierce, forbidding, defiantly old-fashioned sense of realism: the landscapes boast an icy majesty that still can’t be equaled by CGI. And if the actors look cold and dirty and fed up, their breaths steaming up the lens of the simply outstanding cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, then that’s probably because they were at the time of the shoot.
This astonishingly vivid sense of wilderness matters because nature plays such a big part in the story of The Revenant. Hiding behind a wiry tangle of beard, DiCaprio is Glass, one of the fabled mountain men who explored the West in advance of white ‘settlers’. After he and his fellow trappers flee an attack by Native American warriors, Glass, accompanied by his half-Pawnee teenage son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), leads his exhausted comrades further up-country. And there, in woods of primeval creepiness, Glass is set upon by a bear.
It’s for this bear attack that The Revenant will likely be remembered. In a long sequence without any obvious cuts, Glass is pounced on, then clawed at by a creature the size of a minivan, his body tossed around like a ragdoll. It’s technically brilliant and viscerally intense, and the assault leaves Glass grievously injured.
Assuming he’ll succumb to his wounds, fellow trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) volunteers to stay with him, while the rest of the party press ahead. Except Glass doesn’t die, so Fitzgerald, keen to join the others, kills Hawk and drags Glass into a shallow grave.
And yet Glass is still alive. What’s more, he vows revenge against Fitzgerald. Dragging himself out of his grave, he begins a long pursuit of his son’s killer – across those sweeping vistas, through icy river torrents and avalanche-prone mountains-capes, encountering along the way murderous racism from French trappers and glimmers of redemption from Native American wanderers. The result is a gripping blend of psychological drama and epic adventure, brutal and bloody but underpinned with a delicate poetic moral message. Barely saying a word, DiCaprio is extraordinary. It’s a committed, compelling and utterly convincing performance, one that is sure to bag him his long-coveted Oscar. If only for eating raw bison liver, he deserves it.
I was blown away by this film and I’m sure for the people who haven’t seen yet will be too. Everything worked in perfect symmetry, from the powerful performances of the cast to the edge of your seat moments. I advise everyone who loves realistic and gritty cinema to go see this film.