With theater attendance down, studios are doing their best to create “must-see-in-theaters” experiences nowadays (I often prefer staying in and watching a movie in sweatpants instead of driving to the mall and deal with hoards of people). It can be flashy 3D flicks like the Avengers franchise or a more highbrow engagement like Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight which was shot in 70mm film.
But one of the things that drew me to see Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant was when I read that it was shot nearly all in natural light. With the exception of one campfire scene, director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki used what was given to him by the skies in Canada and Argentina where the movie was filmed to tell the 19th Century American frontier story.
I’m glad I saw Revenant on the big screen. Visually, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Iñárritu and Lubezki immerse the audience in stunning snowy, mountainous and forested landscapes. There are moments throughout Revenant when there are breaks from the (very) intense action and the camera focuses only on natural elements like rivers, trees or the sky. It’s a breath of fresh air amid a story filled with fierce scenes.
Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is part of a group of men on America’s frontier looking to make money in the extremely risky business of the fur trade. The first scene is a violent and bloody clash between Glass’s group and a tribe of Native Americans. But later in the film when DiCaprio’s character is left for dead (this is in the trailer so no spoilers), the biggest force working against him isn’t a human enemy, but nature itself. Freezing weather, scarce resources and dangerous terrain all combine to make Glass’s campaign for revenge a living nightmare. Nature in The Revenant is a beautiful but unforgiving stage on which the movie takes place.
There were several times sitting in the theater where I thought to myself, “wow, this film is absolutely gorgeous”. But there’s plenty of times throughout Revenant that you forget you’re walking through heaven on Earth and instead realize that it’s more like hell. Guns, knives and claws all come out to draw blood in a lawless part of the country (Hateful Eight has a similar feeling to it but with more humor). I wasn’t expecting the amount of gory violence that occurs frequently throughout the movie and there were several audible gasps from the audience. I even shuddered during some scenes.
With awards season here, I have no doubt that The Revenant is a favorite to take home some hardware. I haven’t seen all of the frontrunners, but I can say that Revenant, Hateful Eight and Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation are all wonderfully shot. If you go see Revenant–and I strongly suggest that you do–I think you’ll agree with me that there’s a strong case for Iñárritu to win best director. If he accomplishes that at the Oscars, that will be back-to-back wins for him, making him just the third director to do so (by my count) and also making it three years in a row a Mexican director has won the award (Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity in 2014 and Iñárritu last year for Birdman).
As for Leo, I applaud his performance in Revenant. Will he finally end his Oscar drought? I’m not sure since the nominees aren’t out and I haven’t seen all the frontrunners yet. But his role as Hugh Glass is layered with two aspects of him becoming the drive of the film: Glass the father and Glass the survivalist.
Overall, The Revenant is aesthetically beautiful and the story brutal. And DiCaprio fights a bear. If that’s not reason enough to go see a movie (or to give the man his Oscar already), I’m not sure what is.