“Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest. And like a forest, it’s easy to lose your way… To get lost… To forget where you came in.”
-Hattori Hanzo (Kill Bill: Vol. 1)
I think Alejandro G. Iñárritu isn’t just obsessed with film; he is obsessed with the skill it takes to make a film. From the very beginning of his career, Iñárritu has seemed like a different filmmaker. He went to pain-staking lengths to make Birdman look like it was filmed in one shot, but what was lost in that film was the message. Sometimes he becomes so obsessed with the making of the film that he forgets how important the actual narrative is. Lucky for Iñárritu, he is excellent at casting his films.
The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass. Glass is a frontiersman and trapper who is helping guide a group of pelt collectors through hostile Indian territory. While Glass is scouting ahead of the group, he is attacked by a bear and is seemingly mortally wounded. The leader of the group, Captain Andrew Henry played by Domhnall Gleeson, asks John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Bridger (Will Poulter) to stay with Glass and his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), to make sure a proper burial is received. Needless to say, Fitzgerald has other ideas, and Glass isn’t as close to death as he seems.
What Iñárritu has crafted in The Revenant is a spectacularly looking yet thinly narrative film. The artistry and craftsmanship behind the camera is without question some of the best I’ve ever seen. The beautiful landscape is captured in an excellent way. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is so fantastic that it rivals the great Roger Deakins. Every step through Glass’s journey we feel his pain and anguish. The somewhat true story is extremely harrowing and at times horrifying to watch. Iñárritu’s greatest skill is his ability to convey emotion through the camera lens. His command of the camera is breathtaking, and it is no wonder he has been recognized by The Academy.
Iñárritu’s biggest problem is his overall disdain for connective or thoughtful narrative. In Birdman he seemed enveloped with the idea of putting certain actors in certain scenes and seeing how it would work. This film is similar, but more so asking the question, is it physically possible for my actors to do this shot? The stories behind the making of The Revenant sound like something out of a horror film. Iñárritu asks his actors to do the unthinkable and yet forgets about the heartfelt journey of his characters.
The acting in The Revenant is masterful as well. Leonardo DiCaprio pulls off the best performance of his career. The role calls for little speaking from the character and even less when it comes to English. This negates his biggest weakness. DiCaprio often times has trouble with making accents sound believable. Most noticeably, his role in The Departed was hampered by this. But in The Revenant the acting is much more physical. The pain conveyed through DiCaprio’s eyes is almost palpable and at times doesn’t even feel like acting. As good as Leo is in this film, Tom Hardy might be better. Hardy’s Fitzgerald is a menacing man hell bent on his own interests. Hardy is such a deft actor that this role feels obviously natural for him, but he never mails it in. His crazy eyes and slick tongue are triumphant parts of his repertoire. Not to be overlooked, Domhnall Gleeson, has had a terrific year. First with Ex Machina, then with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and now with The Revenant.
As a film, The Revenant is beautiful. As entertainment, it is harder to pin down. I thoroughly enjoyed the performances, but the overall lack of narrative or more so letting the story be an afterthought is in my estimation a mistake. Leo literally gives his blood, sweat, and tears to this film, and he should be rewarded for it. Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson also give excellent performances that keep this movie from being a virtually silent film. The biggest question going forward for me is whether or not Alejandro G. Iñárritu will be able to combine his unique flare for style and a complex narrative together. His borderline psychotic drive to create beautiful films might scare away talent, and I think he realizes this. In his own words, he has said as much, “It’s scary when you have that dream that is big and everything was set to fail. So, yes, I couldn’t be more proud, more surprised, more shocked that we finished, that I survived. But I will never do it again. Because I am a crazy man, but not stupid.”