Last year saw Oscar’s top honors go to Birdman, an eccentric, stylized tale of a man stuck in a midlife identity crisis. This film, complete with swirling (and sometimes distracting) camera work and loud, wordy performances, also took home the award for Best Director: Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu.
This year, Iñárritu returns to take another shot at Oscar with his latest film: The Revenant. The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass, a frontiersmen in the 1820s American wilderness, who has been recruited as a guide for a band of fur trappers. On the off chance that you haven’t seen any of the spoiler-iffic trailers (the one below is fairly harmless), I will leave it at that. Glass is in the middle of nowhere, fighting his way back to life.
It’s a movie like this that makes me stop and consider how much expectation affects how we receive a film. Other than a certain movie about an Awakening, this was easily my most anticipated movie of the year with probably my favorite working actor being paired up with one of Hollywood’s most inventive directors. This certainly had a major influence on how I would walk into and away from The Revenant. Regardless, there were parts of the movie that were amazing while there were definitely aspects that fell a bit flat.
The things Iñárritu gets right he gets VERY right. The film would probably rank, for me, as the most beautiful of the year.
The natural setting of Glass’s journey is a wonder to behold, shot almost entirely using the natural light of Canadian and South American landscapes. Emmanuel Lubezki, who might as well start writing his acceptance speech for his third straight Oscar, brings magic to the camera work, most notably in an opening battle sequence that is truly a stunning piece of visual prowess. Lastly, the acting is top-notch. My boy Leo brings an incredibly physical and much less verbal presence to the role, proving yet again that he is among the elite of cinema’s versatile actors. Joining him is Tom Hardy, (quickly becoming one of my favorites) whose performance is equally noteworthy, Will Poulter who is unfamiliar to me at this point, and Domnhall Gleeson who somehow managed to have a role in half of the best movies of the year.
Iñárritu’s epic is not without fault. The movie certainly challenges us in a visual way with every grueling moment of Glass’s plight for restoration, but over a running time of two and a half hours it grows in its redundancy. The audience itself can certainly feel beat down by the merciless journey. Thematically the film meshes several big ideas together, some much better so than others. The narrative explores the chaos of man amongst the peace of nature, the human will of survival against the graceless expanse of the wild, and the free will of man amidst the sovereignty of God. Each of these ideas is carried out to the end of the film but do not all hit the mark, leaving us with a resolution that is not quite as satisfying as it needs to be for the struggle we endured to get there.