Nominated for 12 Oscars, this survival-revenge thriller drama may finally win DiCaprio the ultimate trophy
Directed and co-written by Academy Award winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel), The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Aviator, Titanic) as the legendary Hugh Glass, an American fur trapper who was popular for being seriously injured by a full-grown grizzly bear during an expedition in 1823 and was later abandoned by his fellow trappers. It's not the first film loosely based on the survivor, nor is it the more accurate one, but it certainly is one hell of a survival-revenge drama that's surprisingly more visually violent than Quentin Tarantino's films. I refuse to also label it an adventure due its grim tone.
The premise of surviving in the snowy harsh environment while being hunted by a pack of hostile beings immediately reminded me of The Grey (2012), but rest assured, they can't be any more different from each other in all other aspects. The committed performance by DiCaprio here is dramatically brilliant. Despite being one of the most known actors in the world, he manages to genuinely transform himself away into this tragic survivor who has to endure all kinds of agony staying alive in search of justice. Tom Hardy, too, portrayed his antagonising role very well (with a different accent again), as John Fitzgerald, a classic selfish character that everyone would hope to see brutally killed by the protagonist. And then there's also the Arikara Native Americans who're looking for their chief's missing daughter and would kill any Americans in sight.
Set in the scary, freezing cold wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase, Inarritu shot the entire film at the location itself with natural lighting and refused to use CGI enhancement, saying that it'd make the film "a piece of shit". But of course, even to perfectionists like him, some of the wild, hostile animals had got to be computer-generated. Thankfully, these CGI animals look and move convincing enough, especially the bear which made me wonder if it's real. The production was tough — from delays to layoffs to apparently more than doubling its original budget — but ultimately, it turned out rewarding, and probably no other director could've managed it.
It's evident in Birdman that Inarritu is capable of doing purposeful long single-take sequences with the expertise of two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity), but never in my wildest imagination would I have thought that these camera works were possible in such scale and, not to mention, outdoors. One of the first scenes of the film is simply unbelievable, where the large group of trappers were being brutally ambushed by the an army of Arikara, and the camera transitioned from characters to characters while all that chaos is happening, and somehow none of the scenes in the film is messy or confusing. It looked like it's all filmed in a single-take without cutting, with a single camera, and the whole scene felt like 10 minutes or more. It's technically mad-genius stuff, and I've not a clue how that was done at all.
'Fun' is probably not the word I'd use to describe the film, definitely not the kind of fun we got from Birdman, but it's truly an engagingly immersive experience of pain, grief, constant suffering and genuine sense of danger. Not only that I sympathised DiCaprio's character, but it also felt as though I was in that cold harsh environment enduring it all with him in slow burning pace throughout almost 2 1/2 hours of the film. Perhaps the only major weakness of the film is its poor attempt to connect the story with its deeper meaning and moral complexity. "Revenge is in the Creator's hands." Sorry but... what?
Malaysia censorship: As mentioned, the film has brutally violent scenes. It seemed completely uncensored at the advanced press screening. Not sure if it'd be the same for public. However, there's a chance that it might not be censored as it is already rated 18.
Second opinion: (Sorry, none this time. I watched it alone.)
Verdict: Easily one of the best films from 2015 and technically superior than the director's previous work which won him the Oscar.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
Based on: "The Revenant" novel by Michael Punke
Genre: Semi-biographical drama
Running Time: 157 minutes
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Screenwriters: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson
Malaysia Release Date: 4 February 2016
Local Distributor: 20th Century Fox Malaysia
Production: Anonymous Content, Appian Way, M Productions, New Regency Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Regency Enterprises
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