For the past couple of weeks, the internet has been buzzing with one single question: will Leonardo DiCaprio finally, finally, finally win his Oscar? Memes have been created, articles have been written and a group of women has even collected money to buy Leo his very own golden statue. From what I’ve seen of Leo’s performance in “The Revenant”, I can only say this: he sure as hell deserves one.
What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people have heard about “The Revenant”, because the film has been nominated for 12 (!) Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Motion Picture, and has been in the news a lot as a result. But the general public (myself included, I’ll admit it) has no idea what the film is actually about, apart from the fact Leonardo DiCaprio’s in it and apparently he’s very good. “The Revenant” is set in the 1820s, where we follow a group of men on a fur trading expedition that goes terribly, terribly wrong. The group encounters hostile Indians who are set out to claim back their land, an aggressive bear who is set out to eat Leonardo DiCaprio and one of the group’s own set it to sabotage the expedition. As the men fight for survival against the brutal nature of America, they have to face a perhaps even greater danger: themselves.
Needless to say perhaps, is that Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is magnificent. For an actor who is known for his versatility and his ability to completely absorb a character (remember his portrayal of Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street” or autistic Arnie in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”), he manages to surprise the audience again with his portrayal of expeditioner Hugh Glass. The character has little to no dialogue at all, which makes DiCaprio’s performance even more impressive, as he conveys the character’s thoughts and emotions almost completely through body language and facial expressions. Glass it put through hell, as he is first brutally attacked by a bear, then left for dead by his own companions and finally, literally crawls through the rough landscape as he goes on a quest for revenge.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu zooms in so closely on his main characters and his setting you feel like you’re there. You’re right there in the icy cold landscape with the characters, right there when Glass is attacked by the bear, right there when he crawls out of his improvised grave, dirt stuck to his skin like blood. The effect is brutally honest and gruesomely realistic: as an audience, you’re feeling the cold and smelling the greasy fur of the pelts the men are collecting. This is perhaps the greatest strength of Iñárritu’s film; the fact that it does not shy away from picturing reality, at times in its most brutal, yet beautiful way.
Apart from all the horrifyingly realistic images of dirt, blood and flesh, “The Revenant” also showcases incredibly beautiful shots. The landscape shots of the frozen mountains, lakes and forests are breathtaking. Stormy clouds are rolling over the deadly landscape as Glass is only a tiny shadow, fighting for survival. Director Iñárritu steers the camera in such a way, it adds even more depth to the splendor of the visuals. His image are swooping, ever-moving, as they capture the overall situation to the tiniest of details, such as dew on the plants or dirt on the animal’s fur.
Despite the multiple Oscar nomination and a hugely impressive film, “The Revenant” appears to be a film that’s not for everyone. As I was being swept away by all the visual splendor and heart-wrenchingly painful scenes, people stood up to leave the cinema. In the break, more people left than came back for the second half of the film. Obviously, “The Revenant” is not a commercial film and as such, it is not a film everybody should be able to enjoy. And that’s okay. But if you do give “The Revenant” a chance, a real chance with an open mind, audiences might be surprised about what this film does to you.