The Revenant is a movie to be experienced once. The Revenant is not a perfect movie, far from it.
On the narrative front, Inarritu does what he can with the material and there is not much there. To break down the story: A frontiersman, Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is left for dead after he is mauled by a bear. He seeks revenge against a member of his group for a heinous crime. There is a secondary story about an Indian tribe looking for a kidnapped girl. There is not much meat to the primary story of the film and there is not much time spent with the main characters. Given that, when bad things happen – and lots of bad things happen to the main character – I was detached from the character. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) kills a character, but because we did not spent much time with that character, the impact was lessened greatly. Narratively, there was enough to carry the two-and-a-half hour running time of this film. Most of middle portion of the film is Glass crawling or walking.
For performances, there are two main characters, Glass and his foe Fitzgerald. While DiCaprio is good in his performance, he has had much better roles. He spends an inordinate amount of time in this film grunting and not speaking. Hardy does get more lines than DiCaprio, but for some reason he decided that the best way to deliver the lines was to mumble them. I could not understand him for half of his lines. The good thing is that the story is so simple, what he was saying really did not matter. The best performance of the whole film is turned in by the bear.
This film is bleak and brutal. The oft talked about bear attack scene is just as gory and brutal as people have described it. There are scenes of battle that are violent and disturbing. Watching Glass survive, whether eating or finding shelter or crawling because of his leg, was tough. There is not let up to the bleakness in the film and by the end, I was drained – not emotionally, but I felt that I was beaten over and over again by the film without it letting up.
So, why is it that I would say that the film is worth watching once? There are two things. The first and most important is the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. This film, is gorgeous. There is no way to describe just how beautiful the film looks. Many kudos to Lubezki, his cinematography is what makes this film memorable. There were multiple times in the film when my jaw dropped from the stunning vistas Lubezki was able to capture on film.
The second thing is the haunting film score by Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto. It captures the mood of the film perfectly and never gets in the way of the visuals. It is constantly in the background elevating the visuals without being overbearing.
So, yes, The Revenant is a film to be seen and experienced. Not because of its narrative or the performances of the actors. But, because of the stunning cinematography and the haunting film score.
I have multiple issues with the film. The first is the way that Glass heals during the film. It is clear that the mauling did a lot of damage to Glass. At one point after Hawk is murdered, Glass is crawling around and it is clear that his ankle/leg is broken badly. This is something that would take months to heal, but in the film he is up and walking in what looks to be a few weeks. In one scene when he is woken up by the Indian tribe looking for their kidnapped girl, he is sprinting to a horse. Later in that scene, he and his horse fall off a pretty tall cliff. The horse is killed, but he falls through a tree and lands at the bottom without any broken bones at all. The film wants to seem real, but there are these jarring moments that ruin that reality.
After Fitzgerald kills Hawk and moves the body, Bridger returns and Fitzgerald tells him a lie about how Hawk went away looking for something. Shortly after that, Bridger wanders around the camp calling for Hawk and looking around and does not find Hawk’s body. When Fitzgerald tells Bridger that Indians are coming, they start to run from the campsite while dragging Glass into a hole. When Fitzgerald and Bridger are gone, Glass crawls a short distance and finds Hawk. The distance between where Glass was originally and where Glass ended up was pretty short and we’re to believe that Bridger did not see Hawk’s body there?
The unrelenting miserable feeling of the film is a bit much. In one sequence, Glass sees that the Indian who was helping him has been hung and killed. That leads immediately to a scene of an Indian girl being raped. Which then leads almost immediately to Glass falling off the cliff with the horse. That leads to Glass gutting the horse to use it (tauntaun style) to keep warm in a snowstorm. Inarritu never gives the audience a break and keeps on beating up the audience for two-and-a-half hours. It was a bit much.
The secondary story of the tribe looking for their kidnapped girl was very thin and only a plot device so that by the end, they were around to kill Fitzgerald.