DiCaprio survives an Iñárritu film
By Jason Wiese
A friend of mine with whom I attended my screening of The Revenant compared the protagonist’s journey to the career of the Oscar-lacking actor who portrays him: Leonardo DiCaprio. Her analogy stated that regardless of the pain and suffering that he is put through, he never gives up and continues to fight for his survival, just as DiCaprio has fought for the survival of his career despite little to no recognition from the Academy.
This period piece, which is being released nationwide today, inspired by the historical-fiction novel by Michael Punke, and named after a word meaning “someone who has returned, as if from the dead,” may be his moment of glory.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu does with The Revenant what he did with 2014’s Birdman to Oscar-winning success: take an ultimately simple story and make it an extraordinary cinematic experience. During an 1820s fur trading expedition of the uncharted American wilderness at the turn of winter, expert frontiersman Hugh Glass is viciously attacked by a grizzly bear, leaving injuries that seem beyond repair. He is close to death when his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, at his wicked best, with emphasis on the word “wicked”) leaves him for dead. Miraculously, Glass survives the betrayal, but his true fight for survival is about to begin as he embarks on a cold, merciless and painful quest for vengeance.
Throughout its 156-minute running time, The Revenant includes some of the most engrossing, fascinating and, of course, revolting images I have seen recently. Yet, even in moments of disgust, it is impossible to look away.
Iñárritu does not leave much time to prepare the viewer for the brutality there is to witness. Within the opening 15 minutes is a scene of a Native American attack on the camp at which Glass and his comrades take refuge. Shot in one take, in brilliant Iñárritu fashion, and with masterful attention to detail and authenticity, that scene does for the 1820s fur trading business what the opening D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan did for World War II.
That is only the tip of the cold, cold iceberg that is this wild ride of a film. DiCaprio has never been so lively on screen for playing a man so close to death at every turn. Rendered nearly unable to speak after his attack and spending most of his screen time alone, his character has very little dialogue. DiCaprio uses this limitation to his advantage as a successful exercise in silent expression, carrying the already potent story to its fully powerful potential.
Hardy, on the contrary, is the natural opposite of DiCaprio’s role and a departure for the British actor. Known for often playing men of the soft spoken kind, Fitzgerald is a motor mouth of insidiously selfish intentions. Hardy has shown up in many of the 2015’s best films, including Mad Max: Fury Road, and this is certainly my favorite film of his from that year and the best performance of his I have seen since 2008’s Bronson.
Iñárritu already sold me as a filmmaker of unique invention with Birdman, but with The Revenant, he solidifies his place in cinema as a master of powerful storytelling and visual captivation. It is one of the most realistic films of its kind or any kind for that matter. In fact, to call it any “kind” of film would be an insult. If I was to use a phrase to categorize it, I would say that it is an “Iñárritu film.” But it is DiCaprio’s resilience in times of tragedy and the visibility in his face in moments of pain that gives this film merit to be called a miracle.