Release date: 15th January 2016/Watch the trailer here
The Revenant is being lauded as one of the greatest films you will ever watch. The five-star reviews are seemingly endless. Nomination after nomination after nomination. Will the awards season buzz ever end? Will this be the year that Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins an Oscar?
After being inundated with nothing but praise for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest offering, I entered the cinema with understandably high hopes. I prepared myself for two and a half hours of the greatest cinema experience of my life.
156 long, gruelling minutes later, I felt disappointed. Let me defend myself: I believe that films can be divided into Good Films and Entertaining Films. Sometimes, a film will fall into both categories, and those are the best kind of films. Sometimes, a film will be entertaining but absolutely awful, and those are our guilty pleasure favourites. Occasionally a film will be neither. We don’t talk about those films.
The Revenant is a Good Film. It is a very, very, very good film. The Revenant is not an Entertaining Film.
The Revenant is like nothing that I’ve ever seen before. It’s simultaneously gruesome and beautiful, with the most jaw-dropping cinematography courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki. Go and see The Revenant for its beauty alone. Shot entirely in natural light in freezing conditions, the infamously gruelling process of filming The Revenant is arguably well worth it for the things that Lubezki achieves with a camera. It’s all too easy to forget that you are watching a film; the cinematography immersive to the point that you believe that what you are seeing on the screen is actually happening.
However, that’s not always a good thing. I spent two and a half long hours watching Leonardo DiCaprio grunt and groan in the snow, spittle flying everywhere as he rips apart animal carcasses. Those were the moments that I didn’t want to believe were really happening. I would even go so far as to argue that DiCaprio’s performance as 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass is one of the weakest out of this year’s Academy Award nominees – he just had to endure more arduous conditions than the rest of them. I felt that the performances of Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter were far more notable, in fact.
Don’t get me wrong – the realism The Revenant achieves is truly remarkable, but it makes for an exhausting watch. Never before have I watched a film in the cinema where I’ve heard so many members of the audience audibly wince so many times. Perhaps the most stomach-churning scene is the shockingly brutal moment in which DiCaprio is mauled by a (jarringly CGI) bear. The Revenant is not for those with a queasy disposition – it is far more violent and gory than your average slasher flick. The bear attack is lifelike to the point of horror, a scene that is stretched out to its very limit, until you find yourself watching through your fingers and praying that it will just end and someone will put poor Leo out of his misery.
Mind you, at least some of the more gruesome, brutal scenes – such as the battle between the fur traders and the Native Americans with which the film opens, or the wince-inducing face-off which serves as The Revenant‘s vicious finale – are exhilarating, and tense, and exciting to watch. DiCaprio stumbling through the snow? Not so much.
The Revenant‘s fatal flaw is that it sacrifices character development for its beautiful cinematography and shocking realism. As the characters mumble their way through the dialogue, you realise that you don’t particularly care about any of them. If DiCaprio had toppled over and died mid-way through the film, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.
So, by all means, please go and see The Revenant. It achieves some remarkable things that you certainly will have never seen before, and are unlikely to ever see again. For all my complaining, I’m glad that I’ve seen it. Do I have any desire to watch it again? No. But will I ever forget it? Absolutely not.