Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Screenplay: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleason, Will Poulter
The film is based on actual events in the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his fellow trappers when they are attacked by a Native American tribe in the early 1800s on the Louisiana Purchase wildernes. After escaping the attack, Glass is then the victim of a brutal bear attack that leaves him barely alive, and he is left for dead by fellow trapper John Fitzgerald (Hardy), who also takes advantage of Glass’s incapacitated state to murder his Native American son. As soon as Glass begins to recover, he starts moving with one goal in mind: revenge. As Glass drags his damaged body through the horrifically cold landscape, inching closer and closer to Fitzgerald, the audience gets to see Fitzgerald’s attempts to falsify the events to work in his favour, much to his young, reluctant sidekick’s dismay. Glass is also grieving the loss of his son, and his suffering is interspersed with hallucinations of his deceased Native American wife, which are woven in and out of scenes with increasing frequency.
Why it might win Best Picture
Alejandro Iñárritu has a history of tense, gritty, critically acclaimed films, and The Revenant ticks all those boxes. A physically torturous and somewhat gruesome film to watch with seemingly non-stop near-death moments, interspersed with achingly beautiful scenery, the film is equal parts jarring and exquisite to watch as the trappers traipse across the brittle and frigid landscape. The cinematography alone is enough to earn the nomination, and DiCaprio’s acting, while not quite solid enough for me based on the simplicity of the storyline, is good enough to earn him a ‘Body of Work’ Oscar for those four nominations he’s missed out on. The supporting cast is good, and Iñárritu’s obvious relentless dedication to recreating the frontiers of the 1800s is admirable enough on it’s own. Coming off the back of Birdman’s win last year means voters probably still have that film hovering in the back of their minds to influence their preferences, which works enormously in his favour.
Why it might not win Best Picture
Beautiful cinematography and direction aside, there are enough elements in the film I found lacking to create enough strikes to knock it out of contention. The storyline, while based on true events, is fairly basic. “Frontiersman Hugh Glass almost dies a bunch of times and is really, really cold for the whole film and also has fever dreams” would not be a totally inaccurate tagline. DiCaprio’s acting is good, but good within the limitations of the script, which feels very bare bones. He’s good with the material, but is he as good as some of the other Best Actor nominees in this particular role? I don’t think so.* The brutality of the landscape and some of the physical attacks, including the bear mauling, which is one long, continuous shot, feels exhausting, and eventually made me lose interest in what was happening to Glass, and I suspect that’s a feeling that others share as well. To be honest, it’s a hard slog of a film and I think it works against itself in a number of different ways.
*I personally think Leo should have been nominated and won for The Departed, and my husband thinks his best work was in Blood Diamond. I don’t think this is his best work to date, but it’s certainly indicative of the sorts of intensely demanding roles he’ll seek out in the future to get that elusive Oscar.
Have you seen The Revenant? I’d love to know what you think!
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