After last year's brilliant dark comedy "Birdman", Alejandro González Iñárritu is back with another venture in the genre phase of his career. In "The Revenant", the Mexican director takes on the Western in all its unsavory glory. In this brutal revenge tale, it's man vs the wild, men vs each other and man vs himself.
Leonardo Dicaprio stars in the film as Hugh Glass, a frontiersman in the 1820s who is part of a group of men hunting for pelts (furs from animals used for coats). Making their way through dangerous territory in the Northern region of the USA, they are ambushed by Pawnee Indians one day, leaving many men dead. Glass and the remaining few escape by the skin of their teeth, but more trouble soon arises when he is attacked by an aggressive grizzly bear. After some attempts to revive him and carry him home to safety, one of the men (John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy) decides to leave Glass and his son - who he kills - behind. Miraculously, Glass survives, and upon the realization that his precious son was murdered, he sets out on an epic journey to avenge him.
Terence Malick meets Sam Peckinpah in this stunningly photographed and unflinchingly violent Western. The former's longtime collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki is in fine form here, reprising the jaw-dropping long takes that made "Birdman" so audaciously entertaining. And when the camera isn't up close and personal to the action, it steps back to capture the beauty and wildness of the environment. Nature truly becomes as much a character in the film as the actors, both literally (Judy the Bear) and figuratively.
But most of all, "The Revenant" is an authentic Western in the vein of Peckinpah, and a great one at that. It features all the elements we've come to expect from the genre - savage Indians and frontiersmen, horses, stunning landscapes and of course, violence. And within that violence, the film is anchored in not just the motives for our lead character's revenge plot, but the effects of revenge long before it is executed. Iñárritu's script (co-written with Mark L. Smith) engagingly explores the way revenge consumes you, both mentally and physically. As Glass braves the wilderness, it becomes clear that his mission is self-destructive, almost like a murder-suicide.
Naturally, the actors are also crucial in creating the staggering sound and fury of the film. As the brutish Fitzgerald, Tom Hardy crafts a striking villain, using his natural brooding skills and imposing physicality to great effect. But it's Dicaprio who's the star, giving a deeply committed, almost wordless performance. Once again, he proves why he's one of the most beloved actors of our time. Some may she he's trying too hard, but I don't mind seeing an actor sweat for his work. And ultimately, it's this level of intense dedication that makes "The Revenant" so awe-inspiring. From cinematographer, to composer, to the visual effects artists, everyone involved goes above and beyond, much like our determined protagonist.
And because of all this bravura filmmaking, many Oscar nods will surely follow. Building on the precedent set by "Birdman", this film may very well be the nomination leader with nods for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Most importantly, it looks like it's finally Leo's year for a Best Actor win. I can't wait to see the reaction when, or if that happens.