Friday, January 8, 2016


An old friend of Reel Speak was once taught that there are only two things needed to make a great movie; Lighting and Writing. Writing, of course, is the most important; it establishes places, characters, actions, conflicts, and is the elemental piece of any film. On the other end, lighting simply establishes mood and atmosphere. For the last 100 years, filmmakers have relied on all kinds of lighting tricks to help tell their stories. With THE REVENANT, the latest from director/writer Alejandro Inarritu, the only lighting trick used is the best of all; the only light used is the one that Mother Nature provides.

 A company of 19th century fur trappers, guided through the wilderness by Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and commanded by Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), are attacked by Indians and while on the run, Glass is savagely attacked by a bear protecting her cubs. As the company breaks up, Glass is left for dead by the greedy and taunting Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who also kills off Glass’ adapted Indian son. Not as dead as Fitzgerald thought, Glass begins a journey of revenge and survival through the harsh winter wilderness.

Getting back to basics is what THE REVENANT is all about. It’s a basic plot of survival and revenge which is paired with the most basic of settings. Most of the film centers on Glass as he makes his way across the frozen tundra with nothing to eat and barely a fur to cover his wounded body. It’s a series of ups and downs for Glass, who must evade Indians who are out for the kill and find a way to not starve in a frozen wilderness, and just when he finds a way to get by, it is taken from him just as quickly. It is a harrowing tale of survival, but not content to sit by and let that be the driving force of his film, Alejandro Inarritu couples it with a spiritual side; the loss of Glass’ family and what he is fighting for is never left out of the tale.

There is an absolute relentlessness to THE REVENANT. The weather never lets up, and things never seem to get better for Glass. The bear-attack is one of the most savage things ever put to film and is absolutely cringe-worthy, and the threat of the Indians, who also have their own justified axe to grind with the White Man, is always surrounding the story. Inarritu does not let his foot of the gas-pedal at any point, making THE REVENANT a near exhausting watch. By the time this tale ends, both Glass and the audience will have passed though the belly of the beast.

Filmed in the wilderness of places like British Columbia and Alberta, THE REVENANT is perhaps one of the most stunningly jaw-dropping films ever to see the big screen. Images involving trees, running water, snowfall, and even a snail-shell are filmed in breathtaking detail. Everything about the film is real; the actors look frozen and miserable because they really are frozen and miserable, and Mother Earth looks gorgeous because she really is. Inarritu certainly restores any lost faith that wonders of nature no longer exist in the world. Simply put, there are images on the screen that are hard to believe.

While famed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is busy painting the most beautiful of cinematic pictures, Inarritu is composing some amazing one-take shots. By not cutting away for what seems like forever, the audience is dropped right into the middle of the action; every chase, fight, tussle, and trudge through the snow is felt real, and it doesn’t involve wild tech like 3D or virtual reality. Far from a gimmick, it makes THE REVENANT an immersive stunner.

Equally stunning are the performances by the cast. Leonardo DiCaprio goes through hell and back for his role; going bare-skinned in the freezing cold and jumping into more-freezing streams. Most of his dialogue comes out in grunts and wheezes (a throat injury courtesy of the bear attack), so there’s not a lot for him to say but a lot for him to do, and it is a physical performance which has to be seen to be believed. As good as he is, he is nearly overshadowed by Tom Hardy, who with his southern drawls and savage mannerisms, makes for an intimidating character. Domhnall Gleeson is excellent as always.

Despite being a simple revenge and survival story, THE REVENANT actually has a lot to wrap up towards the finale, and with a running time of two and a half hours, the resolutions feel very much earned as the journey to get there is definitely on the epic side of things. By using the simplest of writing techniques, and the beauty of nature to lead the way, Alejandro Inarritu has created a film which is a triumph for the human spirit; both in front of and behind the camera.


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