Review: 'The Revenant' Is A Powerhouse Of Visuals And Performance, Just Barely Misses The Mark

There's no doubting the talents of Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu when looking at his filmography. With 'Amores Perros', '21 Grams', 'Babel' and 'Birdman' all filling in his previous works, Inarritu is a filmmaker sure to be a part of the Oscar conversation in any year that he releases a film. He looks to repeat the successes of last year's 'Birdman' with his latest, 'The Revenant'. The end result is a film that immediately shows you that it was made by a group of people who were swinging well beyond the fences, but they may not have hit their mark. 

'The Revenant' is a story inspired by true events and follows Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trader and frontiersman who goes on a mission of survival, redemption and revenge after being attacked by a bear while on an expedition with fellow fur traders. This screenplay was written by Inarritu and Mark L. Smith who collectively worked from Michael Punke's novel. With a cast that incudes DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter all being shot by returning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, all of the pieces are in place for a well-acted, gorgeous film with brilliant sequences of harrowing adventure. 

I haven't been able to confirm wether or not this film was shot entirely with natural light, but that is the rumor and boy does it sure look plausible from the jump. This film opens with shots so beautiful that I would love to pull dozens of these frames  from the screen and put them on my walls. Lubezki continues to push the bounds of what films should look like and how scenes should be framed and this is one of my first knits to pick with this film. Inarritu and Lubezki choose to film multiple scenes with continuous one-shots and tilted zoom shots that are less than pleasing, the latter of which almost looks more at home in a schlocky horror flick. The former of those are brilliant and immediately make me think of the challenges of staging and filming these sequences. Appreciation of things like this is okay but pulling my out of the film as an audience member isn't. 

These sequences are distracting from admittedly remarkable performances throughout. Tom Hardy's ability to play men from different regions and cultures and time periods astounds me continuously. He does it again here with both a physical and emotional transformation into a rather unattractive bald, gruff frontiersman with a somewhat southern affectation that all combined will leave you completely unsure of the man you're looking at. DiCaprio doesn't quite match him but delivers a great performance in its own right. For almost the entirety of this film he is being pushed to the limits of human endurance and he shows it every second he is on screen. I don't think that this is Leo's year for the golden statue but he spends the two hour plus runtime trying to convince everyone watching that it is. 

Inarritu delivers a sprawling, harrowing film that is as beautiful to look at as it is difficult to watch. The struggles that these characters have to go through come across as real each and every scene and are framed in a while that will prevent you from looking away. If only this film wasn't so beautiful and technically marvelous it would have held my attention as a narrative piece throughout. This is one of the better problems a film could have but it leaves me thinking that this time around Inarritu won't be quite as guaranteed many awards.