The Revenant, from last year’s Best Director Alejandro G. Inarritu, is a big player in this year’s Oscar nominations. Many reviews I have seen were measured in their praise for the movie on the whole, while celebrating other specific aspects (like Leonardo DiCaprio and the cinematography). I found the overall experience exhilarating and moving.
Much of the initial heat associated with Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant focused on Leonardo DiCaprio’s anguished performance and Emmanuel Lubezki’s bravura cinematography (to be expected from the two-time Oscar winner, but this time with all-natural lighting!), even if a lot of the reviews have concluded that it ultimately feels empty and doesn’t supply its audience with an ample enough backstory to feel invested. One review even suggested that its semi-ambiguous final shot blunted the movie’s overall power. With all of this swirling through my mind when I saw it, I was unsure how much of an effect it would have on my interpretation of the movie. I’m happy to report that I loved it! As pointed out by the majority of reviewers, DiCaprio is fantastic. Though the script gives him very little dialogue, he uses his face to beautiful effect, conveying volumes with his eyes and his tight-set jaw. The dazzling locations and the sumptuous camera work add even more layers to what was already an upper-echelon performance. Though I have found DiCaprio more inconsistent than most (his Departed performance was grossly overrated in my book), when he nails it, he absolutely nails it. Though The Revenant does include other storylines and follow other characters, his Hugh Glass is still the heart of the film, taking the audience on the journey and giving the gorgeous location photography its bottom-line reason for existing. Though his backstory is fairly superficial, I felt that it did make a strong impression. Perhaps DiCaprio gets full credit for that, but I felt the echo of his character’s tragedies throughout the rest of the film.
Notwithstanding all of that, I found the movie gripping and, ultimately, worth pondering. The final shot was significant, as it suggests the moral quandary that Glass found himself in. Though Birdman (also directed by Inarritu) was more kinetic and stylish, The Revenant was more substantial to me. It dealt with some conditions that most humans will never have to endure, for sure, but so did Birdman in its insidery Hollywood way. Here, though, the audience is asked to examine their very deepest human impulses and whether they are positive or negative. Does the drive to get revenge ever help us better ourselves? Does our instinct to survive always benefit us? Are there appropriate times to give up? I was left pondering a lot of questions and turning inward to answer them. For me, the argument that The Revenant was too straightforward or not complex enough does not hold up. It’s arduous and it tries the audience’s patience, to be sure, but all in the service of shining a light on some of our darkest desires. Leonardo DiCaprio may end up holding a trophy come February 14th, but if The Revenant doesn’t join him as a nominee on January 14th, that is a travesty.
(Quick note: Alejandro Inarritu won the Golden Globe for Best Director tonight, ironically, after losing the Globe last year for Birdman but then winning the Oscar. Then, DiCaprio won the Globe for Best Actor and The Revenant won Best Picture – Drama. The Revenant is definitely a favorite of many critics and groups.)