The Revenant is the brilliant Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu's version of a western – a mad, visionary and quite often preposterous survival tale. It is very bloody, very violent and full of murky religious symbolism but is also often astounding in its flights of macabre lyricism.
This has been a famously troubled production. Rumours abounded of tensions between director and cast. Given the demands placed on the actors, it would have been surprising if at least some of them hadn't been in as much a state of revolt as Fitzgerald, the surly and psychotic fur trapper played here by Tom Hardy.
Leonardo DiCaprio's career in pictures
Leonardo DiCaprio's career in pictures
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Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, at one of many outrageous parties in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street
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Margot Robbie and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
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Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street
Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street
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Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the famous scene from Titanic
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'I'll never let go, Jack': Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett in Titanic
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Leonardo DiCaprio's hand in his Titanic sex scene with Kate Winslet is iconic in itself
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Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet
20th Century Fox
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Another scene from Romeo and Juliet
20th Century Fox
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Leonardo DiCaprio star and Matt Damon star as an undercover cop and police force mole in crime thriller The Departed
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Leonardo DiCaprio stars as director and aviator Howard Hughes in Scorsese drama The Aviator
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Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio and Jim Broadbent in 'Gangs of New York'
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Glitter bugs: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton in 'The Great Gatsby'
Bazmark Film III Pty Limited
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Leonardo Di Caprio playing Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby
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Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann's 'Great Gatsby'
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Leonardo DiCaprio starred as con artist Frank Abagnale in the film Catch Me If You Can
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Leonardo DiCaprio in the puny sci-fi thriller Inception
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Sir Ben stars alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island
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Leonardo DiCaprio in the Revolutionary Road
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Winslet and DiCaprio in the Revolutionary Road
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Leonardo DiCarprio in the documentary 11th Hour (2007)
The film, set in 1823 in the frozen American hinterlands, opens with a bravura, extremely gory set-piece. The fur trappers are attacked in their camp by Native American warriors. Down come flaming arrows. Knives and tomahawks whistle through the air at an extraordinary velocity.
On Birdman, the Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki gave viewers the illusion that they were watching a film in a single take. Here, during the early scenes of carnage, he aims for a tableau effect. We see dozens of characters in frame and in focus all at the same time. Someone here is being scalped, someone there is being stabbed. A trapper is running to the boat, another is writhing on the ground in agony
A little later comes one of the strangest, most extraordinary scenes in the film, in which trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is attacked by a bear. There have been prurient reports that the star was "raped" by the grizzly. That is not the case, but the attack lasts for a small eternity and is shot in such a realistic and close-up way that you could be forgiven for thinking you are watching a natural history documentary. The bear certainly gets up close and personal with its quarry. It paws and claws at DiCaprio, licks him, rips his back open and leaves him all but dead.
The Revenant is based in part on a novel by Michael Punke but its characters are actual historical figures. The real Hugh Glass was mauled by a bear and faced a similar struggle to that endured by DiCaprio's character here.
DiCaprio is a very long way removed from the clean-cut teen idol he was in Titanic days. His Glass is a hirsute, weather-beaten figure who grunts as much as he speaks. His performance is as much a feat of endurance as it is a conventional piece of screen acting. DiCaprio conveys very effectively the character's dogged desire to survive, if only for vengeance's sake. Hardy is impressive as his scowling, murderous nemesis. There is strong support, too, from Will Poulter as the youngster caught between Glass and Fitzgerald, and from Domhnall Gleeson as the captain of the trappers, who tries to preserve a sense of loyalty and decency amid the carnage.
At times, as the frontiersmen contemplate their mortality, it is as if we are watching Davy Crockett being remade by the great Russian arthouse director Andrei Tarkovsky. In parts, the film is slow-moving, contemplative and full of poetic imagery. There are flashbacks in which Glass remembers his time living with the Native Americans. There is also one strange scene in which Glass keeps himself from freezing by disembowelling a horse and taking shelter in its still steaming carcass.
In addition to its reflective elements, this is also a ripping yarn, complete with chases through forests, escapes down waterfalls and fight sequences. You cannot help but detect a certain megalomania on behalf of the director – a desire to push every scene to the absolute limit and to reach new peaks of spectacle.
The Revenant isn't a smooth ride at all, but it is a film on the very grandest scale – a frostbitten epic that cannot help but provoke a sense of awe through its visual daring and sheer demented scale.
- More about:
- Leonardo Dicaprio
- Hugh Glass
- Tom Hardy
- Alejandro González Iñárritu
- Domhnall Gleeson
- Emmanuel Lubezki
- Will Poulter
- Davy Crockett
- Andrei Tarkovsky
- Michael Punke