By the end of THE REVENANT, I felt like I'd crawled a hundred miles through the wilderness to get to the end. Like that journey, the film is slow, challenging, powerful in small bursts and incredibly beautiful to watch.
When a group of fur traders is attacked by Indians searching for a kidnapped loved one, tracker Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio, reliably brilliant and a Best Actor Oscar winner for this role) and his native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) barely escape with their lives.
Fortunate to survive alongside them are Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) who is fiercely loyal to Glass, and Glass's biggest adversary, John Fitzgerald (a powerful and despicable Tom Hardy).
The survivors are forced to follow Glass across the wilderness in a trek to get back to their fort.
When Glass is savagely attacked by a Grizzly, he hovers near death and the team is forced to make a decision to move on and leave him for dead or stay close and let the Indian hunting party and the elements draw closer.
Both of those two action sequences are amazing.
Director Alejandro G. Inarritu and his cameraman Emmanuel Lubezki are incredible together in creating immersive action sequences. From the first arrow, the camera swirls around the action non-stop in an incredible feat of photography, acting and stunt work that must have taken months to prep and rehearse.
At one point, the camera watches an attacking Indian approach on horseback. The moment he passes us, the camera moves with him at full speed through the violence and then moves at normal speed once he falls from his horse.
It's seamless and visually amazing.
Lubezski is the first man to win the Oscar for best Cinematography three years in a row, for "Gravity", "Birdman" and now "The Revenant". So deserved.
The bear attack happens a half hour into the film, leaving two hours for Glass to survive and gain vengeance against those that have wronged him.
Half of that two hours are additional exciting sequences, with the other hour depicting quieter moments in Glass's recovery, his lonesome quest and some serious character study of the flawed men in the wilderness.
I liked this much more than I did "Birdman", which I could never connect with on any emotional level. THE REVENANT is so incredible in both its photography and sound that you can't HELP but be immersed.
Combined with DiCaprio's great performance that is nearly silent for half the film and Tom Hardy's intensity as a very bad man, its a compelling journey.
As a fan of some of Terrence Mallick's work, especially "The Tree of Life", I wonder how people can call Mallick indulgent and absurd and then embrace this film at the box office.
There are just as many long, quiet shots of the wilderness here (that frankly wear a bit thin as you pass the two hour mark) as Mallick indulges in, but somehow this film makes $184 million, while Mallick's films are lucky to break the million mark.
Credit DiCaprio for bringing the viewers in and Inarritu for keeping them in their seats through this violent, unrelenting, tragic and exciting passage.
This makes Richard Harris's similar trek "The Man In The Wilderness" (1971) look like a day at Disneyland.
The Revenant wont be for everyone, but if you have two and a half hours to give yourself over to a challenging journey that bruises body & soul, this beautifully shot film offers thought provoking gifts.
THE REVENANT finds an A-.