Film Review: The Revenant

Thriller shows Leonardo DiCaprio at the top of his game and wonderful cinematography.

Sam Thornley / Staff Writer


Revenge is a dish best served cold, and nowhere is that more evident than in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, The Revenant is a revenge thriller with strong performances, beautiful camera work and gripping set pieces. The film was released on Dec. 25, 2015, and won Leonardo DiCaprio his long awaited Oscar as well as a second Best Director Oscar for Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

Loosely based on a true story and the novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant follows frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) leading fur trappers through unorganized United States territory in 1823. After being attacked by a bear and left for dead by fur trapper John Fitzgerald (Hardy), Glass must survive the winter wilderness as he seeks his revenge.

The film features amazing cinematography of wildlands, all filmed using natural lighting in Canada, Argentina and the US. This pays off with the long and flowing shots of wilderness and that set up the cold and hostile environment. These shots manage to add to the brutal and agonizing conditions and action Hugh Glass goes through, all focused on in length without interruption. These long takes draw the viewer into the moment with their intensity, showcasing Iñárritu’s masterful direction through their duration and precision.

Without a doubt, The Revenant is brutal in its exploration of the harshness of survival, and the toll it takes on Glass. The gory violence is visceral in its nature and the men are all appropriately grizzled in appearance and outlook as they weigh the merits of looking out for each other. Fitzgerald is a repugnant racist whose brutality and deception make Glass’ pursuit all the more justified. Needless to say, the film is not one to watch for those easily put off by cruelty and nightmarish conditions.

At the same time, it is not a film without heart. Glass’ interactions with those he trusts and cares for are surprisingly heartfelt and filled with conviction, and he is shown to be a caring man who refuses to let tragedy turn him into something worse. This makes the toll his revenge quest and need to survive take on him more engaging, as the audience is reminded that he is a human being suffering through this and keeps the viewer hoping he is not consumed by the revenge he seeks and emerges a better person from it.

The performances are also top notch, especially from DiCaprio and Hardy. While usually a handsome and charming man, Leonardo manages to capture the grizzled nature of Hugh Glass in his looks and behavior while remaining a human being through his more emotional moments, displaying a surprising amount of range for an actor typecast as pretty boys. Tom Hardy is also quite memorable, as he portrays the hateful and bigoted nature of John Fitzgerald convincingly enough to make one root for Leonardo to succeed in his quest, Hardy perfectly embodies a villain that one can love to hate.

If there are any faults in The Revenant, it is that it plays very loosely with the historical events that inspired it to a noticeable degree. While not obvious to those unfamiliar with the real tale of Hugh Glass, a quick jaunt in research will reveal that entire characters were made up and even the season and outcome of the story. This manages to severely hurt the impact of the story upon finding out how much of it was fabricated or altered even if it makes for a much more interesting film. Additionally, there were some sequences that seemed a little unrealistic in their nature that can stretch the suspension of disbelief.

Overall, The Revenant manages to be an engaging and gripping thriller that will keep the viewers on the edge of their seat as they watch to see if Hugh Glass succeeds. With excellent performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy along with beautiful camera work, this film manages to showcase Alejandro G. Inarritu’s talent with directing and serves as an outstanding tale of revenge and survival that will undoubtedly become a classic in the years to come.