February 3, 2016
I did not know what the word "Revenant" meant before I watched the film. It turned out to be a very good decision not to look it up first. Because of my ignorance, I entered the cinema without any idea what kind of movie I will be watching, save for what I saw in the vague early teasers. (I carefully avoided any other trailers after the first one.) Because of the awards buzz, I knew I should keep an eye on Leonardo DiCaprio as he is poised to win his first Oscar for Best Actor. As it turned out, this film is not just DiCaprio's performance. It is way,way more than that.
"The Revenant" is a film based on the real-life experience of American frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass in 1820s. On this one most unfortunate expedition in the dead of winter in the mountain wilderness, Glass faced multiple attacks from nature and from fellow man, leaving him severely broken in body but his will pushes him to rise and fight back. That is as much as I could give without spoiling the whole experience for you.
I know, that synopsis makes the film sound oh so bleak and dismal. It definitely was a difficult film to watch because of those intensely violent encounters with a variety of crude weaponry which adds to the brutality. The film's biggest and most memorable centerpiece scene (which will forever be its trademark) depicted an animal attack that looked so real you'd gape in awe and wonder how this truly barbaric scene was even possible. That scene should seal the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
However, beyond the profound violence, director Alejandro Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki treated us to a gloriously moving photography of Mother Nature at its grandest and at its most perilous. The achievement is more remarkable with the knowledge that everything had been shot in natural light, and supposedly in sequence (!). I am betting on both Inarritu and Lubezki to duplicate their Oscar wins from their magnificent (in a totally different way) masterpiece last year, "Birdman."
Leonardo DiCaprio obviously went beyond the limits of human endurance and comfort to portray the torturous experience of Hugh Glass. He was actually there going in and out of the freezing waters of those rivers. He was actually stripped down in the snow and hid himself inside an animal carcass. This is unprecedented dedication from an A-list star that deserves to be rewarded. DiCaprio had been nominated four times before ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "The Aviator," "Blood Diamond," "The Wolf of Wall Street"). As he had already won most of the pre-Oscar awards of this season, like the Golden Globe and the SAG, it looks like this fifth nomination is the charm for Oscar, and this would not be just for sentimental reasons.
Playing DiCaprio's main antagonist is versatile star Tom Hardy. This actor is a chameleon as he can disappear fully into the characters he is playing, and you cannot always recognize him. His John Fitzgerald here was another one of those total transformations. His name was not always mentioned among those considered for Best Supporting Actor, so I was happy that he finally gets his first ever Oscar nomination for this role. Despite his tendency to mumble his lines in many of his roles (this one included), Tom Hardy is indeed an actor to reckon with. With another big film of his being considered for Best Picture, "Mad Max: Fury Road", 2015 was indeed a banner year in Hardy's career.
"The Revenant" is nominated for 12 Academy Awards this year. Aside from Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Director and Cinematography, it also earned deserved nods in a slew of technical categories (Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects). I don't know why the haunting musical score of Ryuichi Sakamoto was unjustly snubbed. Admittedly though, the missing citation for its Screenplay is understandable as some situations were too physically unrealistic for a man with Glass' severe injuries.
The beauty of the visual and visceral masterpiece that is "The Revenant" deserves to be seen on the big screen (or better yet, on an IMAX screen). Even at least once if extreme violence makes you uneasy. Amidst all that grit, grime, blood, treachery and vengeance, there was a redemptive spirituality that managed to shine through it all. 10/10.