** (2 stars)
d – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
w – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Mark L. Smith (Based on the Book by Michael Punke)
ph – Emmanuel Lubezki
pd – Jack Fisk
m – Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, Bryce Dessner
ed – Stephen Mirrione
cos – Jacqueline west
p – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, David Kanter, Mary Parent, James W. Skotchdopole, Keith Redmon
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Lukas Haas, Forrest Goodluck
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 6th film, the gorgeous and at times beguiling The Revenant, tells the true story of Hugh Glass, though it is loosely based on Michael Punke’s book which itself is based on the famous story. The tale goes that Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper in the early part of the 19th century, was essentially left for dead by his comrades after a bear attack and then proceeded to successfully crawl his way back to base across hundred of miles in the blistering cold. In this interpretation of the tale, he does this to exact bloody revenge. This deviates from the true story, although I’m sure what we know to be the truth about Hugh Glass has most likely been distorted over the years.
The Revenant is a film with several spectacular sequences. Each moment in the film is presented in a rhythmic yet serial fashion. There’s an opening battle sequence between these white trappers and a Native American tribe known as The Arikara Indians that immediately sets the tempo for the film, depicting savage violence and agonizing despair with cinematic lyricism. The climax of the film, a fight between two men, creates a similar sense of anguish that, even though there are less participants, is a confrontation that’s just as bloody. But the most breathtaking sequence is the film’s depiction of the bear attack, in which every laceration is certainly palpable.
All these moments are captured by Mr Inarritu and cinematographer Emmnauel Lubezki in long, elaborate, showy single-take Steadicam shots, with wide lenses and natural light. This is a technique that has been Mr Lubezki’s predominant staple throughout his career and one Mr Inarritu has adopted with both this and his last film Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014).
It seems compulsory to think of the film as this series of self-contained set-pieces because when taken in as a whole, the film never feels assured. Is it a frontier revenge western or a mythical mediation of man’s relationship with nature? No one says it can’t be both, but Mr Inarritu only appears to be audacious when it comes to visual dexterity and nothing else. His depiction of nature borrows heavily from Terrence Malick, a trait many critics have already pointed out. But his nihilistic view, his mystical sense of pace, is more appropriated from Werner Herzog than anyone else.
This is also affirmed in the depiction of Glass himself, who is less of a physiological soul, despite a number of dream sequences, and more a machine of suffering and insanity; he’s a Kinski-like figure. Although Mr DiCaprio’s performance is extremely physically committed, he and Mr Inarritu seem to be caught between depicting Glass as a mythic, unstoppable force and merely a man entangled in a horrific set of circumstances.
I don’t mean to constantly make comparisons to other filmmakers but imitation has always been a problem with Mr Inarritu for me. One of the aforementioned dream sequences takes place in an abandoned church that is such an overt recognition toward Andrei Tarkovsky that any attempt at finding substance proved trivial.
Unlike Herzog, the film jumps around a lot between Glass’ own agony and that of his associates: the hunting-party leader Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), young, timid hunter Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and self-serving, somewhat psychotic John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).
For these reasons, the film’s quieter moments are not as compelling as the extravagant action scenes. There is a lack of vision to The Revenant that keeps it from ever being truly distinguishable and Mr Inarritu has yet, for me, to validate himself as a true visionary.