Raw beauty of Leo’s en­durance

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - CINEMA GRANT FELLER

Gen­eral re­lease

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

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