I was extremely surprised when I left the theater, because simply put, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new movie, The Revenant, is a masterpiece.
Having seen and been a bit disappointed by Birdman last year, I went into The Revenant expecting an aesthetically pleasing movie that would go on for too long, held together by strong acting performances. While Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy each give excellent performances, it is Iñárritu himself who deserves the lion’s share of the praise. The movie’s ability to toe the line between realism and gratuitous violence is a testament to the artist’s genius. It certainly has over-the-top violence, but not quite enough to turn off the average viewer. Based on the life of 19th century explorer Hugh Glass, the movie allows the audience to experience Glass’ world just as he did, struggling with the protagonist for that extra step, that last gasp of air.
The film’s realism (odd to say, given Birdman-esque human flight) is exceptional not just for the violence, but also for the magnificent world Iñárritu creates. The flying is clearly a hallucination on Glass’ part, which is not surprising given the injuries he sustains throughout the movie. This leads me to the most monumental moment of the film. During his fight with a bear, main character Hugh Glass sustains major life-threatening injuries, creating a scene so powerfully brutal and realistic that it brought people to tears in the theatre I was in. Viewers of The Revenant actually cried while witnessing a fight between man and bear, even though the man eventually won. Amazingly, no bear was even used in the filming of the scene, as CGI was used to create the entire sequence.
While the fight is perhaps the film’s most memorable scene, it would not have made much of a difference if it weren’t for the excellent performances of DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, and Hardy as John Fitzgerald. For the film’s entire three hours, Glass is constantly on the edge of death, refusing to give in even when survival seems impossible. DiCaprio brings this character’s humanity to the screen. The effort he puts into every action left me in awe, whether he was gasping for air, crawling through dirt, or gathering the energy to whisper a few raspy words. Towards the ending, when Glass whispers, “I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I done it already,” I truly believed him.
DiCaprio is excellent, and deserves all of the accolades he will receive for the film, but Tom Hardy matches him nearly step for step. A poor performance out of John Fitzgerald’s character could have easily degraded the movie. If audiences didn’t believe in the authenticity of his actions, there would have been little excitement in watching Glass go through each of his trials and tribulations for the sole purpose of exacting revenge. Hardy plays to perfection a character with seemingly no emotions or sympathy, a man whose only goal is self-preservation. The culmination of these two performances, [SPOILER] in which both men engage in a brutal hand-to-hand fight, harnesses an unbelievable rage and intensity that I cannot recall ever seeing before in a movie.
The only critique I have of this movie is that it was about 30 minutes too long. Each moment served to maximize Glass’ suffering, making the ending that much more satisfying. At the same time, however, large swaths of the movie seemed to do little to move the plot along. The length of the movie undoubtedly turned off potential viewers who did not have three hours to devote to the film. Even so, the length of the film does little to take away from its beauty and excellent cast, and I urge everyone to set aside the time to watch this superb piece of artistry.