Obsolete will be the hilarious memes which have plagued one of Hollywood’s finest leading men; bleeding, crawling and grunting his way to impending Oscar glory, Leo’s agonising wait for a golden statuette appears to be on the brink of ending. The performance that appears to have finally given him the edge is that of bear-beaten, raw-meat-eating, well-bearded frontiersman, Hugh Glass, in Birdman helmer’s Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s much publicised revenge thriller, The Revenant.
Another film based loosely on ‘real events’, it co-stars the man of many accents Tom Hardy as the film’s mumbling antagonist John Fitzgerald, as well as rising star Will Poulter and the ever-dependable Domhnall Gleeson. A snowy bound tale of redemption, DiCaprio’s Glass is left for dead by his fellow expeditioners after being brutally mauled (and certainly not anything more, we’re told… ) by a bear. Seemingly on the verge of death but yet to take his final (and presumably what would have been a rather dramatic) breath, an impatient Fitzgerald (Hardy) – eager to get on with their journey back to camp – decides to play God, killing Glass’s son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), before trying to bury his fellow huntsman alive. Despite being ripped to shreds by a scary-ass, impressively CGI’d grizzly, he makes an astounding recovery. Spurred on by the thought of avenging his son’s death, the lone hunter crawls his way through 1820’s American wilderness to gain redemption.
Much has been made of the crappy conditions faced by cast and crew alike during the film’s production. Weather conditions, re-shoots and walk-outs; it was a slog, and it shows. It’s hard to have anything but admiration for the way Iñárritu has gone about shooting his last two award winning features. The guy loves a tracking shot and aesthetically, both Birdman – and even more so – The Revenant are a sight to behold. There’s no questioning that the South American helmer knows how to immerse an audience within his work. Through every gun shot, stab wound and body slam, you feel like you’re in the mix with Leo and co., being covered in mud and praying for a bloody coat (apparently it was freezing).
Yet it looks, feels and is, hard work. Its opening – a brutal surprise attack on our frontiersmen by natives amongst the American woodlands – is expertly crafted. Swooping in and out, it feels personal and authentic, like you’re dodging each and every bullet and arrow for your own dear life. However, its demanding style never relents, and it becomes a slog for the eyes, ears and mind. Painfully intense and frustratingly long, there’s only so much heavy breathing, snow crawling and Hardy’s near-inaudible accent you can take in this near 150 minute epic which makes Bear Grylls look ordinary.
Enjoyment would be the last word I’d use to describe The Revenant. Leo’s battled his way to awards glory, and you’d be hard pressed to deny him a much deserved win. Yet beyond the grunting you can’t help but think he’s produced better, and more rounded, displays. It’s a harrowingly visceral spectacle; one which deserves respect and appreciation, but beyond the way it looks, there’s a sense that maybe this is once again, like Birdman, style outweighing the substance.