Raw beauty of Leo’s endurance
FIRST, DON’T believe the hype — The Revenant is not really a Western in the conventional sense. Instead, it’s a rather old-fashioned adventure story of human endurance, battling the elements, seeking revenge and trying to establish a code of honour in the wilderness. It could be transposed into any era, not just the 19th century American frontier.
Having said that, some hype can be believed – this is an astonishing piece of visceral cinema, the sort of bloodied experience that leaves you exhausted, frozen in the seat as you contemplate the haunting final frame.
It may win Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar, though it’s probably the first script in which his eyes say far more than his mouth – only Terence Malick could have given him fewer lines. Indeed the mark of Malick is indelibly printed on director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s extraordinary picture. Nature at its most stunning and unforgiving, sometimes in the same moment. Man’s obsession with finding a path to redemption through love, loyalty and violence (and I do mean man — the only women in this unashamedly masculine film are either dead or raped). The unbreakable bond between life, death and God. Yes, Malickian pretentiousness occasionally creeps in.
The Revenant tells the true story of how, in the Missouri wilderness of the 1820s, a legendary explorer (DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass), mauled by a bear and left for dead by a treacherous trapper (yet another lesson in ruthless brutality from Tom Hardy) seeks an honourable revenge after a 200-mile Homeric odyssey and, with it, some kind of quasi-religious connection with his murdered family.
DiCaprio is riveting, more for his physical performance than his emotional one, but it is Inarritu who should be a dead-cert for the Oscar. His magical camera swoops, floats and lingers, mists up with breath before becoming literally splattered in blood, makes audacious 360-degree movements as chaos envelops the screen and transfixes the audience with a series of bravura unedited sequences, recalling the trademark fluidity that made the director’s Birdman so hypnotic.
This is cinema as relentless experience. It’s bookended by DiCaprio stalking his prey and for the intervening two and half hours we are almost entirely with him – suffering when he does (and boy does he suffer!). Shivering in the snow, plummeting down ravines, tearing the raw flesh from fish and buffalo, shielding in the carcass of a horse, fighting vengeful Native Americans, disreputable trappers and enraged bears. This latter sequence is destined to be one of those eyesthrough-the-fingers cinematic moments that audiences will never forget.
I’m not sure if this is acting or enduring – either way, DiCaprio’s pain as he seeks both real and metaphorical civilization after returning from the dead, feels genuine. In fact the entire film is imbued with a rare authenticity. A savage beauty, too.
Savage: Leonardo DiCaprio stars in