On Sunday night, The Revenant was awarded three Golden Globes. One for Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance, another for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s direction, and one for the film overall. Yes, the Golden Globes are meaningless. And yes, The Martian is not a comedy. But The Revenant is one of the best films of the year.
It is also a film that should only be seen in theaters. Unlike most films, The Revenant was shot using natural light, which means that if the cast and crew could not get the right light for a scene one day, they would have to try it again the next. Iñárritu’s determination paid off, because the film makes audiences feel the freezing winter with breathtaking visuals and color that can only be done justice on a large theater screen. The wilderness is present to a fault, making the film’s score feel out of place, reminding audiences where they really are.
An adaptation of The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke, the film’s plot is at times its weakest link. After being gravely injured by a bear in one of the most intense and realistic scenes of cinema this past year, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is incapable of stopping John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) from murdering his son (Forest Goodluck) and leaving Glass for dead. Glass faces insurmountable odds, fighting against man and nature, for the sake of revenge for his boy.
Leonardo DiCaprio may finally win his Academy Award as his character metamorphoses into the bear that nearly killed him. In a feral performance, DiCaprio is at times superhuman, surviving on instincts more akin to animals than humans. As his desperation and rage grow, so does the madness of Tom Hardy, who is equally brilliant. Along with strong performances by Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter, the cast manages to breathe new life into characters that aren’t necessarily original.
Which brings us back to the film’s weakness: the story. Without the talents of Iñárritu, the cast and the crew, the film would have been a B movie. One does not come out of The Revenant thinking about the characters or the story. What stays with them is the film’s beautiful cinematography and the performances. The dialogue is minimal and the film could have gone without it if Iñárritu was up for the challenge.
In some ways, The Revenant is as much The Hateful Eight’s opposite as it is similar. Both are set after the American Civil War with the freezing Midwest as their backdrop. Both were created by incredibly talented people. Both are violent and severe. Where they differ is in the story and direction. The Hateful Eight may be unique, but its focus on gore and irredeemable villains makes it unwatchable. The Revenant is a familiar story that focuses on beauty and explores the inner strength of one man in a ruthless world. Unlike The Hateful Eight, it is a film that leaves you satisfied.
The Revenant was released nationwide January 8, 2016.