After last years “Birdman” – and unusually fast for him – Alejandro González Iñárritu serves up a gripping tale of survival and revenge that once again proves him to be a masterful storyteller. Raw, brutal and visually stunning, “The Revenant” sneaked up on me with its slow beginning, until I was totally engrossed by what was happening onscreen. It’s beautiful, and haunting, and enthralling – and, at least for me, an early contender for “Best Movie of the Year”.
While on the surface, “Birdman” and “The Revenant” couldn’t be more different from each other, there are two major strengths that they share: Their brilliance on a technical level, as well as stellar performances from the cast. Let’s start with the latter: I strongly feel that after multiple letdowns during Oscar Night, this is finally going to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s big year. And he not only deserves it as some sort of “lifetime achievement award”, but he actually gives an incredible performance here that definitely ranks up there with the best of his entire career (so far). Tom Hardy is a little bit of a hit-and-miss-actor for me, but here he’s all “hit”, thankfully. Also, after being very disappointed with his performance in “The Force Awakens”, which I found unintentionally funny, Domhnall Gleeson completely redeems himself with his great work here. Will Poulter is as solid as ever, and the rest of the cast also is spotless. Probably “The Revenant”‘s biggest star, though, is (once again) Emmanuel Lubezki. I wouldn’t be surprise if he’d grab his third Oscar in a row for this, and from my point of view, it again would be highly deserved. “The Revenant”, which if reports can be trusted was shot exclusively with natural lightning, looks absolutely stunning, telling a decisively grim tale in gorgeous, haunting images. Rarely has a tale of men’s fight for survival – against animals, nature and other men – looked more beautiful and/or impressive. I haven’t seen “The Hateful Eight” yet, but I have to say, it’s quite weird to have Quentin Tarantino ramble about 70mm and how stunning it looks, and to then get a movie that was shot digitally and still looks better than 99% of the movies coming out of Hollywood in the last 50 years or so. One might even come to think that it’s not the technology, but how you use it! But enough rambling, let’s get back to “The Revenant”.
While not giving the impression of being shot in one single take like “Birdman”, “The Revenant” nevertheless once again uses many long takes without a (discernable) cut – a stylistic device that I absolutely adore. Some might think of it as a gimmick, but for me, it can intensify certain moments by giving them immediacy. After all, there are no cuts in real life; thus, it feels more real to me. Plus, I also very much enjoy such scenes on a technical (and logistical) level. And then there’s the hauntingly beautiful music by Bryce Dessner, Carsten Nicolai and Ryûichi Sakamoto, that make an already great movie even better. Despite my enthusiasm, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if not anyone will end up being quite as smitten with “The Revenant” as I was. For one thing, even I have to admit that it’s a little thin on the plot-side, and lives off its mood rather than its story. It’s a pretty simple tale of revenge – but if it’s told as well and as beautiful as here, I personally don’t mind that. Also, “The Revenant” definitely takes its time to tell its tale. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “Terrence Malick-y” (not least because it mostly spares us an annoying voice over-commentary), but there definitely is a certain slow, leisurely and hypnotic quality to it. Which in my case only managed to draw me in even more – however, I wouldn’t be surprised if some will end up calling “The Revenant” tedious and boring, even though I couldn’t disagree more. In any case, from my point of view “The Revenant” is one of those rare films that’s not “just” a movie, but rather an experience.