Written by Yosra Osman

Arts

Review: The Revenant

Be warned, says Yosra Osman, this wilderness-set tale of survival starring Leonardo DiCaprio may be visually impressive, but it’s certainly no walk in the park.

Will Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in The Revenant finally bring him in from the Oscars cold? Photo: 20th Century Fox.

Will Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant finally bring him in from the Oscars cold? Photo: 20th Century Fox.

The Revenant is a cinematic tour-de-force that I could quite happily never see again.

It’s fast becoming ‘the film that’s going to get Leo his Oscar’, but Leo isn’t even the best thing about it. Set in 1820s South Dakota, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, an explorer who is horrifically attacked by a bear and then left for dead by men in his hunting team. Miraculously surviving his injuries, Glass sets out on the ultimate journey for revenge, suffering all the way. And boy do we suffer with him.

Directed by Alejandro González iñárritu, The Revenant takes a very different turn from his last film, Birdman, but with Emmanuel Lubezki back at the helm of cinematography, it’s a stunning journey visually. The shots of South Dakotan wilderness are as beautiful as they are desolate, depicting the unforgiving landscape that the characters must navigate. Sequences are complex, but the filmmakers skilfully navigate battle sequences and rough terrain. The bear attack scene, in particular, is masterfully shot, and perhaps one of the best-directed scenes of the last 12 months.

Iñárritu’s direction is brutal and uncompromising; every ounce of pain Glass experiences is translated onto the screen so that we, the audience, feel it too. The sheer cold of the snow-covered wilderness is unyielding – you feel like you’re sitting in an ice bath. In all honesty, I found the whole experience pretty agonising and exhausting, to the point where at the end I was relieved it was over.

Will Poulter as mountain man Jim Bridger.

Will Poulter as mountain man Jim Bridger.

This brutality has been criticised by some, who condemn the use of pain and violence as gratuitous. But does the film take pleasure in portraying its pain? No, not really. Are the scenes depicted so that the audience enjoy them? Hell no. To understand Glass’s journey the filmmakers want us to go through every horrendous little detail, and it’s not supposed to be fun.

Where the film does lose sincerity comes from its attempts to add meaning to the revenge tale. The plot does not have much depth to it, and references to the plight of Native Americans are almost throwaway. Scenes of Glass’s hallucinations revolving around his wife or son also ended up being jarring, rather than giving the film some real heart or meaning, and could easily be omitted.

Performance-wise, everyone is talking about DiCaprio. It is a good physical performance (note the word physical), and we all know it’s not his best, but he’ll win the Oscar anyway. Enough has been said about that. Indeed there are some other really good performances by Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and, in particular, Will Poulter, who is a subtle scene-stealer.

For the brilliance in filmmaking and direction, The Revenant is very much worth seeing. It is a visual masterpiece, although a flawed one in terms of its storytelling. It’s also not the sort of film you can ‘enjoy’– be prepared to go through a painful couple of hours with Leo.

@yozzie_osman

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Written by Yosra Osman

Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions