The Revenant is a bleak and brutal epic of survival in the harsh American wilderness of the Rocky Mountains in the depths of winter in the early 1800s. (DiCaprio) stars as fur trapper Hugh Glass who is savagely mauled by a mother bear. He's patched up and left in the care of his half-Pawnee son Hawk (Goodluck), fellow hunter John Fitzgerald (Hardy) and young Bridger (Poulter) as the rest of the party makes it way back to civilisation. But when Fitzgerald kills his son and leaves him for dead, convincing Bridger that Glass has died, Glass has to not only survive, but recuperate enough to hunt down Fitzgerald and make him pay for what he's done.
Much has been made of the bear attack scene in The Revenant, and it's truly awesome, shocking and visceral. But there is much more unpleasantness in store afterwards, including a rather nauseating scene in which Glass empties out his dead horse so he can crawl inside to keep warm during a blizzard. In fact, The Revenant is pretty violent right from the word go – early on, Glass's party is attacked by tribe of Native Americans looking to find the kidnapped daughter of their chief. The scene is reminiscent of the beach-landing in Saving Private Ryan, in that you feel as though you are right in the middle of the action. That scene, and indeed the entire film, is magnificently shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, using just natural light throughout. And there are some shots that will leave you gasping and wondering just how they were achieved.
The Revenant is far from perfect, but the story and performances are compelling and the scenery is breathtaking
DiCaprio's performance is central to the whole film, and The Revenant is some of the best work he has ever done. He doesn't have a great deal of dialogue, so the whole film really lives or dies by the expression of his face, and in his eyes. And DiCaprio pulls of off with grandeur, bringing real intensity and grit to the role – you can genuinely feel the character's pain, both physical and emotional. The supporting cast is also first rate, especially Hardy as the villain of the piece and Poulter as the decent Bridger.
This is the second brilliant film in a row from director Iñárritu, who gave us last year's Oscar-winning Birdman. The Revenant may appear to be a revenge drama, but it's really a story of survival, of love and loss. What's probably the most interesting thing about it is the treatment of the Native Americans, who have historically been portrayed as savages and villains by Hollywood. Here their dialogue is subtitled, and we understand why they are attacking the trappers, how they feel about their treatment at the hands of the white men who have invaded and taken their land from them. It makes a nice change.
The Revenant is far from perfect – the pacing is a little off in places, and at a little of two-and-a-half hours it can be a little grueling at times. And like the land it's set in, the film can be very harsh and unforgiving, and it's certainly not a film for everyone (those of a squeamish disposition should give it a miss). But the story and performances are compelling, and the scenery is breathtaking, and if you do decide to see it, then The Revenant is well worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. Just watch out for bears on the way home.