Writer: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mark L. Smith, Michael Punke (source novel)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck
Running time: 156mins
What’s the story: 1823, the Great Plains of the American Midwest. Following an attack by warriors of the native Arikara tribe, a company of fur trappers flee across the harsh terrain for the safety of their fort. But, matters turn even darker when Hugh Glass, their guide, is mauled in a bear attack.
The full verdict: Alejandro González Iñárritu is better with bears than with birds. After the teeth-grinding self-satisfied Birdman, he delivers a survival movie guaranteed to have you cancelling that Lake District camping trip.
Not that Iñárritu is prepared to lose all his pretentious trappings. Metaphysical questions are pondered on the snowy plains and the intimidatingly beautiful scenery (stunningly shot by Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s haunting score lends an undeniably existential air to the survival quest.
And as the title means a returning from the dead, have fun spotting the rebirth imagery the director peppers throughout his movie.
Based on a true story passed into legend and refracted through Michael Punke’s source novel, the basic plot has trapper and scout Glass (DiCaprio) seeking vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear attack.
Chief on his hit list is Fitzgerald (Hardy, channeling Tom Berenger in Platoon), ruthless and coldly pragmatic when it comes to matters of staying alive. Elsewhere the increasingly ubiquitous Domhnall Gleeson impresses as the surprisingly decent company man leading the expedition, and Will Poulter is on equal form as a young trapper terrorised into submission by Fitzgerald.
But, the true stars are Iñárritu and DiCaprio. DiCaprio, whose star wattage presumably ignited the greenlight on this, may get that elusive Oscar for his work here.
A universe away from The Wolf of Wall Street, he is astonishing as a man who becomes as mythic as the landscape against which he rages. Whether swimming through ice rivers, stripping off in an approaching blizzard or chowing down on raw buffalo liver, “performance” seems too weak a word for what Leo endures.
And Iñárritu must also be applauded for having Coppola levels of arrogant insanity to shoot the film in 80 days across 9 months, using natural light in the coldest places of three countries to bring a true man vs. wilderness vision to the screen.
What he has created is First Blood directed by Terence Malick, a film that sits comfortably beside such wilderness classics as The Last of the Mohicans, Deliverance, Southern Comfort, Aguirre: Wrath of God and Sorcerer.
Showcasing his undeniable flair for staging large scale set-pieces in seemingly long, unbroken takes, Iñárritu stages several striking bloody skirmishes with the pursuing Arikara warriors.
As harsh as the wilderness locations, these violent encounters make it clear why the snowy wastes are more preferable to run toward rather than face what’s close behind.
The much discussed bear attack is fascinating as much for attempting to spot the joins between the CGI predator and the real Leonardo as it is a spectacular set-piece.
Sadly, the denouement, though imaginatively staged and messily graphic, cannot top what has preceded it.
And while the final shot strives for a bold statement on the enduring savagery of man, The Revenant is best enjoyed as a spectacularly well realised action movie. We knew you had one in you Alejandro.