I think this is it. I think Leo will finally get his Oscar.
“The Revenant” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as 1820’s frontiersman Hugh Glass, who after being mauled by a grizzly bear is abandoned by his fur trading company (Tom Hardy and Will Poulter). Glass then sets out on a path of revenge against the men who left him for dead. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who won the Oscar for Best Director for last year’s “Birdman,” directs here.
This was near the top of my watchlist for the past year, so naturally the universe would wait to until the last week of 2015 to give it to me. Obviously Leo is a fan favorite for everyone, but he is my personal favorite actor, and as a fanboy of cinematography, having Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot the breathtaking “Gravity” and the amazing “all-one-take” “Birdman” (winning Oscars for both), got me excited. However there was a lot of behind-the-scenes drama, including problems with location shooting and numerous crew members quitting/getting fired, resulting in the budget ballooning from $60 million to $135 million and shooting lasting until this past August instead of the planned March. Production problems doomed “Fantastic Four” earlier this year, so was “The Revenant” another victim? No. Not even close. Because “The Revenant” is the most beautifully shot film possibly of all-time, is one of 2015’s best films, and may finally give Leo the statue that has so long evaded him.
Right off the bat, this is a fantastic, masterfully shot film that somehow manages to be both gorgeous and gritty at the same time. Set in in the early 19th century American wilderness, there is plenty to behold. At several points the film shows the majesty and massive scale of the world we live in, and my jaw hit the floor. What is all the more impressive is this this was filmed with all natural light, giving the film a more genuine feel. If you know anything about filmmaking, you know how insane it is to shoot without using studio lights; if you aren’t familiar with film, allow me to tell you how absolutely insane it is to shoot without using studio lights.
There are also numerous one-take scenes including the five-minute bear attack sequence, which is one of the most intense and gritty things ever put on film. Lubezki will win his third straight Oscar, so sorry, Roger Deakins, looks like you’re going to have to wait another year to win yours (he’s currently 0-12, likely 0-13 after hopefully getting a nod for “Sicario”).
The acting here is top-notch. DiCaprio doesn’t have too much dialogue, and spends much of the film crawling around and lying next to campfires. But it is those physically demanding crawls, and well as all the sympathetic or painful emotions conveyed through his eyes that quietly makes this possibly one of the top performances of his career. Supporting actors Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson all turn in career performances as well and more than hold their own with DiCaprio, although much of DiCaprio’s scenes are him on his own, eating raw bison meat or climbing inside of a horse for warmth.
There really aren’t any glaring problems with “The Revenant.” The plot itself is pretty straightforward but it is engaging nonetheless, although there is one subplot (won’t say what it is to avoid spoilers) that adds probably 10-plus minutes to the 156 minute runtime, and at the end of the day it does nothing to alter the narrative or outcome.
“The Revenant” isn’t something you pop in and watch on a Saturday afternoon with your friends, but it is a fantastic film, and it seems all the behind-the-scenes drama that Alejandro G. Iñárritu caused in his strive for perfection paid off. “The Revenant” demands your viewership with its gripping performances and breathtaking cinematography, and hopefully is the final push DiCaprio needed to finally bring home Oscar gold.
Critics Rating: 9/10