It’s been about a year since I saw The Revenant, and I’m not sure why I held off so long before writing a review. I remember it like it was yesterday, coldly stumbling into the Clapham Picturehouse and settling down with next to no expectations for this film. Despite the impressive history of Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel, Amores Perros), I had been disappointed previously when I had hyped up a film in my head based on the directors track record. Much in the same way, I was hyped to see DiCaprio in a film that might win him an Oscar (and did!), but there have been some ropey ones along the way, and I wasn’t planning on holding my breath.
Cut to the film itself, and I was left nothing short of speechless. To the extent that it’s taken me this long to try to pluck up the courage to weigh in on a film of this stature. This is a film that requires your undivided attention, much in the same way that Iñárritu commanded the commitment from his crew and cast, it would be insulting to half-arse the viewing of this film (you know the kind). Based on true events, The Revenant follows the story of explorer Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) after he is mauled by a bear and deserted. Entering a Bear Grylls on steroids survival mode, Glass attempts to survive winter and those who occupy it, with the intention of finding civilisation.
The survival movie has been done before, but never as well as this. It transcends the genre, and looks beyond the basics of just getting home safely. Glass and his opposite number(s), one of which is played by the excellent Tom Hardy, are bound together by their situations and time at which they exist, but are intrinsically different in their intentions and mental states. The Revenant explores what it means to survive, what it means to exist and allows the viewers to experience a small fraction of what enduring this might feel like.
While DiCaprio’s dialogue is minimal, his committed performance is staggering. It’s a beautiful display of determination, which is reflected in the excellent cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, utilising the long, sparse shots of the freezing landscape to emphasise the challenges faced, as well as displaying the ever-changing surroundings for all to see. There are no gimmicks in the way this is shot; from the opening battle scene to the intense close-ups of a near-frozen DiCaprio, you feel entirely immersed in this arduous tale (aided by the aforementioned cold cinema).
According to my Letterboxd this was the only film I saw last year that I ranked 5 stars out of 5 (from 2016, or 2015 for the US). I stand by this. Having rewatched it, thought about this review, and finally put my thoughts down, I can’t think of a more deserving film for my top spot last year. A breathtaking film, in every single way.