By Garrick Hoffman, SMCC Alumnus
The Revenant (Four out of four stars)
According to Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, The Revenant was so logistically challenging and time-consuming – lasting over a year to film – that they and other crew members had dubbed the film “The Foreverant.” But the fruits of their labor must taste so sweet, because this is one of the best films not just in the stars’ careers, but, without hyperbole, in the history of Hollywood.
Alejandro González Iñárritu served as the brains in the director’s seat for this one, and what he envisioned became a masterpiece. The Revenant, running at over 2.5 hours long and set in the West of the early 19th century, is a story of survival and retribution as it centers around Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) after he is viciously mauled by a grizzly bear, is left for dead by his fur-trade comrades and suffers an unimaginable tragedy. His comrades leave in regret, though Hardy’s character, a calloused John Fitzgerald, is completely indifferent to Glass’s suffering, and is in fact the man behind Glass’s tragedy (hence a story of retribution).
The story is one of man-vs-man and man-vs-nature. Glass, mostly alone on his journey, is pit against the throes of the Western wild in the midst of an unforgiving winter, and is seldom pit against a tribe of Arikara men (as this territory had yet to be acquired by the United States). Throughout, the movie demonstrates its aptitude by completely submerging the audience into the experiences of Glass. We are living vicariously through Glass, we suffer with him, we agonize for him. Most importantly, we care about him. Though we suffer with him, we hate to see him suffer. He has already experienced inconceivable anguish after Fitzgerald’s misdeed, and every trial following is salt in the wounds.
There was so much wonder in this film: for one, the shots were phenomenal, and that is probably attributable to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who did similar work in The Tree of Life, and who brought to life the stunning imagery and immensity of the West. There were frequently shots that ascended upwards or that gave the audience the feeling of ascension, especially in moments to break unbearable pain and tension. Then there was the staggeringly impressive opening fight scene, when a tribe of Arikaras unexpectedly pillage the fur-trading company, leaving only a handful of survivors who escape downriver. It was executed in just one or two very long and exhilarating shots, which must have taken tremendous, complex, and meticulous orchestration.
Then there was the wonder of characters: the fact that DiCaprio has virtually zero lines and who consummately brings the character to life with his movements and facial expressions. Hardy excels so deftly with his character that we are utterly convinced we are not watching him – he is entirely transformed, and entirely nefarious. At one point, when he gives food to a starving man toward the end of the film, I thought, Wow, that is the only nice thing he’s done for the entire movie, only to be shot down by my friend, who surmised that he had lost his appetite when he received troubling news. A very selfish man, he is.
The film acts in a way akin to snowboarding: you feel tense for the entirety of the experience. There were moments when I found myself holding my breath because of the tension, and only when it broke did I notice I had been holding my breath. I could hear my friend exhale deeply next to me, realizing she, too, had her breath taken away for a moment. The Revenant surely isn’t for the faint of heart (my girlfriend had to look away for a scene due to the intensity), but it’s absolutely mesmerizing, and one that will make a cinematic footprint on your mind indefinitely.
The Revenant is the only film I’ve seen twice in the theater, and I would fancy another visit to the theater for it. It stirs you, it captivates you, it provokes thought and wonder, and it literally renders you breathless. Both views resulted in conversation that lasted the entire night and days after. At over 2.5 hours long, it feels more like an hour. What an extraordinary piece of work; what a masterpiece.