Iñárritu's film starts as it means to go on. The opening battle-sequence sees a group of American pelt-hunters attacked in their camp by Pawnee natives: Emmanuel Lubezki's gripping camerawork leaps from weapon to weapon through the forest, following – literally – in the footfalls of death.
This violent immersion and hyper-realism only serves to increase as the group's journey continues. When Glass, the protagonist, is left for dead by mercenary and insubordinate fellow hunter
Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), he must undergo a vast endurance test against the
natural elements and hostile enemies to reach his traitor and exact his
A gory venture into the unknown
Iñárritu leaves no grim stone unturned, from Glass’ (now infamous) violent mutilation by a Grizzly bear to rotting wounds and hair falling out from the roots, is an unmerciful exercise in the extremes of human capability. We are forced to watch the unwatchable: we see DiCaprio feasting (repeatedly) on raw flesh, we see arrows bursting through necks, foreheads and human chests in grizzly frontier combat scenes. Its no wonder DiCaprio and crew described it as toughest film they'd ever had to make: Iñárritu famously used minimal CGI – and there are some things, it seems, that just can’t be feigned. Wince-worthy moments see Glass cauterizing his own wounds with gunpowder, being buried alive, hiding himself in a horse’s carcass for warmth. Not one for the faint-hearted, then.
Within this gruelling, near three-hour long survival thriller, The Revenant also raises some timely questions about the relationship of the native Americans to this unpleasant period in the country’s history. One scene sees a native Pawnee man hanging by the neck from a tree, the words “We Are All Savages” written on a board slung round his neck. This is one of The Revenant's overarching messages: what differentiates human from human is not social or racial history, but the capacity for compassion – or lack thereof. Tom Hardy is brilliant as the bullying, ruthless southerner, whilst Domhnall Gleeson puts in an understated, nuanced turn as the fierce but fair captain of the exhausted group.
Stunning landscapes house human brutality
Few films do as much to immerse their viewers in the experience, however brutal, and it’s this that The Revenant has in spades. Seeing his scarred skin and frozen lips, and rotting flesh, you’ll feel yourself shivering with the same delirium as DiCaprio's Glass. The fact that the entire film was shot in natural light only adds to this immersion, as Glass blinks in and out of lucidity gazing the grey, frosty air. Scenes of unparalleled gore and grit sit brilliantly at odds with the beauty and stillness of these Argentinian and Canadian landscapes.
After last year's successes, Iñárritu has twice proved to us that he knows what he’s doing. In scale and ambition, few films could match this endurance test for actor and character alike. As for DiCaprio, whether this primarily physical performance will win him an Oscar where his previous, more nuanced roles have failed, is a decision left to The Academy.
oscar nominees: who should win?
|What||The Revenant film review: "violently immersive, bleak and beautiful"|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
15 Jan 16 – 15 Feb 16, various times
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go the film's IMDB page|