The fundamental problem with Alejandro G. Iñ֤֤árritu’s The Revenant is that it wrongly presumes that suffering is art. What could have been an epic tale of man against nature, of the unyielding strength of the human spirit, winds up being a seemingly endless slog which feels every bit as gruelling and as torturous as the journey which it depicts.֤
On a purely technical level, the film is a success. It captures the harshness and bitterness of a raging American winter to such an extent that it will send a deep chill into your very bones. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography – famous, now, for its exclusive use of natural light – is eerily effective with its use of low light, and will surely earn him his third Oscar in as many years. However, it is possible to appreciate the skill involved in the making of a film whilst recognising that the film itself is not particularly interesting. Stunning visuals do not a plot make, and are certainly not enough to carry a two-and-a-half hour film which contains very little semblance of a plot other than a draining, revenge-spurred trek through the mountains.
One would be foolish to bet against Leonardo DiCaprio’s chances of winning the Best Actor Oscar later this month for his performance as the determined fur trapper Hugh Glass. It is a rough, physical performance, with more said through grunts and glares than actual words. But as demanding as the shoot itself may have been (multiple stories have emerged of crew members refusing to work in the harsh shooting conditions of the Canadian wilderness in the winter), there is very little about the role itself which stretches his abilities as an actor – unless, of course, eating a raw bison liver ticks this particular box. He would, perhaps, have been better served by a more interesting character. The irony of Hugh Glass is that he is on the move for the entire duration of The Revenant, yet remains firmly static throughout. Hardened and weary though he may be by the end, he is essentially no different a person by the time the credits roll than he is when the film begins. This is not to say that DiCaprio is underserving of the trophy this year – but this has more to do with the lack of any viable competition than the strength of his performance. We have seen him do better.
The Revenant is arguably the ‘Marmite’ contender of the awards season. In the screening I attended, audience members left early in their droves. Yet when the lights came back on, many of those who had made it all the way to the end raved about its brilliance. Few stand on middle ground where this film is concerned; you will either love it or hate it.