Saturday, May 18, 2024 May 18, 2024
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DiCaprio, Inarritu Turn The Revenant Into a Brutal Winter Wonderland

A fully immersive examination of snowbound savagery among 19th century fur trappers that’s both exhilarating and exhausting.

Even if its story might leave some viewers literally cold, The Revenant is a sensational technical achievement so meticulous it could only have been crafted by a cinematic mad scientist.

In this case, that man is director Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman), who creates a fully immersive examination of snowbound savagery among 19th century fur trappers that’s both exhilarating and exhausting.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a thoroughly committed performance as Hugh Glass, a resilient and resourceful trader in the 19th century Rockies who is loyal to both the native Pawnee tribe — as reflected in his marriage and young son — and to a collection of hunters trying to navigate the rugged terrain.

His journey turns considerably more perilous, however, after a vicious bear attack (captured in one unforgettable take using seamless computer technology) nearly mauls him to death. His colleagues leave Glass in the hands of a duplicitous fellow trapper (Tom Hardy), who instead of caring for his injured partner, sees monetary value in leaving him for dead and lying to his superior (Domhnall Gleeson). Once he miraculously survives and learns of the plan, however, revenge becomes the motivation for Glass to keep battling the elements and stay alive.

You almost wonder how Inarritu was able to pull this off, not only logistically but physically, employing consistently long takes and natural light within his remote locations.

The film’s visual beauty provides a striking contrast to the relentless brutal violence, including the pivotal bear attack that is shockingly bloody and vivid. It’s an epic portrait of man versus nature that makes Bear Grylls seem like Mr. Rogers.

The screenplay, apparently based on true events, is deliberately paced yet rewards patience and builds steady tension as it probes a society ruled by a code of honor and loyalty. As the lines are blurred between heroes and villains, it becomes a frontier survival story that’s more like every man for himself.

DiCaprio wonderfully balances strength and vulnerability in a portrayal that requires him to rely primarily on body language and facial expressions. The ensemble cast uses obscure accents that resonate with authenticity (and they’re difficult to comprehend at times), along with the requisite bushy beards.

While hinting at deeper subtext, it stretches credibility and indulges in heavy-handed symbolism along the way, but The Revenant is a feast for the senses that’s both difficult to watch and impossible from which to turn away.