The Revenant: a flawed masterpiece?

The Revenant has quickly become one of the most talked about films of the past decade. From it’s raw and visceral violence, it’s artistic directing and it’s big name cast. But does it deserve the massive response it has received? Or does the Oscar buzz flatter what is nothing more than a shallow interpretation of a great story.

A Brief Outline

The Revenant is based on a novel of the same name, telling the not-so-true story of Hugh Glass. The film is set in 1823 and follows the story of Hugh Glass, a fur-trapper and frontiersman who is left for dead in the snowy forests of Montana. That’s about where the links between The Revenant and Hugh Glass’ life end.

The film follows his brigade’s close encounter with the Native Americans in the area whilst gathering pelts. Following their escape, Glass is attacked and mauled by a grizzly bear who’s cubs had been disturbed by Glass. Not to give too much away, Glass is then transported by his brigade only for them to abandon him half-way near death. Not before John Fitzgerald attempts to bury him alive. The rest of the film follows his recovery and his journey for retribution.

With the direction of academy award winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, as Glass, Tom Hardy, as John Fitzgerald and Domnhall Gleeson as Captain Andrew Henry, It’s hardly a surprise to see the film doing so well. But is it all deserved?

The Revenant’s flaws

I won’t try and hide the fact that I didn’t enjoy this movie. It would be less than pointless, so I’ll just explain why I feel the way I do about it. First of all, the performances in the film are varied. Some absolutely stunning performances from Tom Hardy, who you instantly hate, Domnhall Gleeson also gives an inspired performance. Then there are the more awkward performances. The internet seems to be blind to the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is a very mixed bag. There are some very intense moments in which he lights up the screen, and then there are these moments in which he’s doing very little and you struggle to keep your eyes open. This might not necessarily be down to his performance, but the film seems to be half-filled with these scenes in which he is doing absolutely nothing and it’s not in any way convincing. Tom Hardy however thoroughly steals the spotlight with an absolutely stunning performance. Fitzgerald is the antagonist and I’m still much more interested in his story than Glass’. And just to dispel the idea that DiCaprio deserves an Oscar for all that he endured in the making of the movie. Such as sleeping inside a hollowed out buffalo corpse and eating raw meat, that’s like arguing that Bear Grylls should be an Oscar winner for doing the same, it doesn’t add to his performance in any way.

The Revenant seems to be stuck between the idea of being a realistic and visceral experience, and being down right fantasy. There are several dream sequences, that make you wonder just exactly what it is that is going on. It can be very hard to digest the story since there are large portions of the film where nothing happens, the screen is taken up by Leonardo DiCaprio just walking or trying to survive. The moment you see the bear attack you’ll be cringing and questioning how a man could possibly survive that, the simple answer being a man couldn’t survive half of it. If you’re going into the film hoping for realism, I promise you that you’ll be disapointed. Each and every scene showing Glass going through some sort of trauma just ends with you questioning how Inarritu could possibly believe that somebody could survive that.

As for Inarritu’s direction of the film and the cinematography used, expect to see a lot of close, narrow shots and lots of fish-eye lens. Watching this film without any knowledge of what a fish-eye lens is, would make you believe that Inarritu created it. The only way I could describe the cinematography is, nauseating. You’ll get bored of the fish-eye lens after about 3 minutes into the film and it continues to be used throughout the entire film. I found the contrast between these incredibly close, almost claustrophobic, shots and the wide establishing shots very exhausting to watch.

The story of the Revenant is another issue, as someone who went into the film with some knowledge of Hugh Glass and what he went through, I was very disapointed to find the only similarity between the films interpretation and the actual life of Hugh Glass, was his name. To avoid going into any detail with regards to Will Poulter’s character in the film, all I’ll say is don’t expect any closure to his story, he’s completely forgotten about at the end of the film, outside of one line.

The Revenant is a mixed bag from start to finish. The story is a constant fluctuation, the cinematography is an unecessary attempt at being artistic and the characters range from engaging to cringe-worthy. I could go into further details of where this film goes wrong, such as the glorification of the American settlers and the demonization of both the French traders and the Native Americans, but this isn’t the right place. Overall the Revenant is the kind of film you’ll either love or hate, and whilst I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the film, I’m glad I’ve seen it so I  can put my curiosity over that, now famous, bear scene to bed.

To watch the trailer click here

Photo Credit: startinghere71 via Compfight cc

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Jacob Turner

I'm a 2nd year Film & Television student at Aberystwyth University. I'm mainly interested in Film, but i also enjoy rambling about Television, Music and Video Games. I also like sleep, thats good also.

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