“The Revenant,” which released on Jan. 8, collected 12 Academy Award nominations when the academy announced their picks on Jan. 14. The film received nominations from all over the board: best picture, best actor, best cinematography, best costume design and best visual effects, to name a few.
Many of these nominations are well deserved. With “The Revenant,” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has crafted a masterpiece in technical filmmaking with a monster Leonardo DiCaprio performance providing the emotional connection.
But this isn’t a film for everyone. It’s a long, arduous, violent affair, with lengthy stretches focused on crafty visuals, DiCaprio showiness and not much else. If Inarritu’s 2015 Best Picture winner “Birdman,” was a dense novel, “The Revenant” is the world’s most engrossing picture book.
The film follows 19th-century trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) as he leads a group of outdoorsmen on a trip along the Missouri River back to camp. After Glass endures a brutal bear attack, the large group decides to leave him under the care of his son, an inexperienced young man and a fiery hired gun named Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) before continuing on their journey.
Fitzgerald, who wants to take his money and go home, barks relentlessly at his fellow evacuation team members as the weather conditions gradually get worse. Eventually, he leaves Glass for dead in a hastily-dug grave and heads on his way. From there, the story mainly follows Glass as he slowly recovers from his injuries and treks through the wilderness in pursuit of revenge.
Much of the chatter following the academy’s announcements has focused on DiCaprio’s chances to win Best Actor, and for good reason. He’s 0-for-4 when nominated for an acting Oscar, and talk of his drought grows each year as he continues to churn out excellent work.
Well, this will surely be the performance that brings home the hardware. DiCaprio works relentlessly here to lend the film credence by swimming through rivers, crawling through icy forests and hiding in the carcasses of recently slaughtered animals. Reports from the film industry say Inarritu pushed his cast and crew to the brink by way of a nine-month shoot in frigid corners of the world, and DiCaprio was clearly up to the task.
Hardy may be even better, and has a strong chance to bring home an Oscar of his own. He disappears into character as the villain, terrorizing the weak while still existing in three dimensions.
What really makes “The Revenant” shine is the imagery, delivered by the winning pair of Inarritu and veteran cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Each carefully-plotted shot of the landscape is sublime, and there are a few unforgettable scenes. One such example is the breathtaking bear attack, and another is a jaw-dropping battle sequence that recalls “Birdman” in the way it slides from player to player in one take.
The whole production is technically brilliant and needs to be seen on a towering cinema screen. However, the bare narrative isn’t enough to warrant a 156-minute runtime. The pacing is off; the film takes far too long to launch into the main conflict and an excessive amount of time to find a conclusion. Look past DiCaprio and his immediate surroundings when the dragging occurs, and you won’t find much.
That’s a minor complaint. It was difficult to make “The Revenant,” and those difficulties translate aptly to the film itself. It has a certain urgency, a certain resilience. It’s a film about the journey, not the destination, and when the journey is crafted this well it’s hard to complain.