After Alejandro Inarritu won Best Picture and Best Director for Birdman, it seemed the world was his oyster; whatever he wanted to do next, he would be able to do it. Well, he wanted to do The Revenant, a film he’d been wanting to do for some time, but was a project deemed too ambitious to really succeed. Now, however, that he had some clout behind his name, Inarritu was given the go-ahead, and he forged forward on his next film to an almost reckless degree. Crew members quit on him, the budget he’d been allotted ended up more than doubling, and word began to spread that this might be Inarritu’s Heaven’s Gate. Well, then the film came out, and everyone who was concerned or wanted Inarritu to fail shut their mouths real quick; this was a monster of a film in almost every way. However, it should be noted that, just because this was a mammoth production, both in its construction and in the end product, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a totally worthwhile one. It’s worth your while, absolutely, but for me, it wasn’t the unprecedented masterpiece I’d been led to believe it was going to be.
Leo DiCaprio practically gives his life and soul to the role of Hugh Glass, a mountaineer part of a fur trapping expedition in the wilds of untamed Missouri circa the early 1800s. The party, after being set upon by hostile natives in a sequence that must’ve amounted to a good chunk of the film’s budget (and absolutely delivers on it), winds up fleeing back to their fort, leaving most of their pelts behind. Glass, their navigator, ends up alone to scout their path, and happens upon a couple of bear cubs and their mother. Mauled and beaten by the encounter, and barely clinging to life, the party’s captain sets three men to wait with Glass until he passes from his injuries, which includes his half-native son Hawk, and John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy. Fitzgerald, however, ends up killing Hawk and convincing the other man to leave Glass behind, haphazardly buried in an open grave, sure that he is soon to die regardless. Glass, however, survives, and sets about traversing the wilderness, healing, and trying to survive, so he can make it back to civilization and exact vengeance upon Fitzgerald for murdering his son and leaving him for dead. I honestly wish there was more about The Revenant to talk about besides the big three, but there pretty much isn’t, so I’ll get those three out of the way. First up is DiCaprio, whose performance is really only about half that; the other half is entirely enduring, surviving, and committing himself wholly to the role, even if it means swimming through a freezing river wearing bear skins or eating raw bison liver. I can see why he finally got his Oscar for this, but I’m in the camp of those who both feel that he’s done better work and that his performance is mostly an endurance match instead of actually acting, but what he puts himself through for this film is still absolutely extraordinary. Second is Inarritu, whose direction in this film rode the gamut of his crew and his cast, all to get his vision across on the screen in its most fully realized form, and he succeeds amazingly. Third, and most certainly not last, is Emmanuel Lubezki, and I really cannot say enough about this man and his accomplishments with light and camera. More than anything, this film is stunning to look at, and with Lubezki becoming the first cinematographer to win three consecutive Oscars, I am certainly not going to be the one to argue that he didn’t deserve this one. What also surprised me was that the score for the film was deemed ineligible for Academy contention, the second time in a row that this would happen for an Inarritu film, which I still don’t fully get, especially when the score for this film is so majestic and beautiful and absolutely helps solidify the vision and artistry of the film as a whole, and should’ve walked away with the prize.
Here’s the thing about The Revenant, though, and it’s this that is pretty much why I’m giving it the rating I’m giving it, even while generally loving the film even more than I originally thought I did when I first saw it. The Revenant does a lot of things right, but while the individual parts (as well as the whole) are absolutely sublime, the whole thing doesn’t amount to very much, and the experience isn’t completely worth the time invested into it. I can see why this was added to the list, as well as its nomination for Best Picture, but as for winning the award, I’m not 100% sold on why this should’ve won over some of the other nominees. It’s a hell of an experience, absolutely, but it’s not a wholly worthwhile one; I’d imagine that a good half of the people who’d see this one will feel like it wasn’t worth the two-and-a-half hours it takes to get through it. Still, exceptional work on display here, and if you’re one to take to art-minded, meditative, almost Tarkovsky-esque filmmaking, this will likely be a new favorite for you.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10