Alejandro Innaritu’s frontier tale exceeded my own steep expectations and has earned its spot in the prestigious pantheon that is Innaritu’s own filmography.
Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Surely he is one of the greatest filmmakers alive today. With six films in fifteen years, starting with “Amores Perros” in 2000, he has already left his mark upon the world with his spiritual and often surrealistic storytelling.
His latest piece, “The Revenant,” is a breath of fresh air in a year where I have felt constricted by blockbuster entertainment. 2015 was a record year in Hollywood for those sales numbers films have come to be scored by, largely thanks to “Jurassic World” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Even though the latter was actually well made, they both signal the same reality. It appears that American audiences can be brought out of their homes to the theater in mass only with the comfort and ease of digestion that comes along with sci-fi/fantasy franchises.
Another decade of superheroes and star destroyers is inevitable, because our dollars have given it the green light. My humble suggestion is to spread those dollars elsewhere, namely to films like Innaritu’s. They won’t necessarily make you laugh or feel good at the end, but they provide you with feelings much more profound, feelings that stick.
I just walked out of “The Revenant” with such a feeling, comparable only to “Birdman” last year. To get the summation out of the way, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as frontiersman Hugh Glass, Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, and Downhill Gleeson as Captain Andrew Henry. Glass is left to die and his half-Pawnee son is killed by Fitzgerald during a failed fur trapping expedition. Glass then makes a trek towards Fitzgerald to find some kind of spiritual solace and exact justice. For this reason this is the most personal of Innaritu’s films, as he lost a son himself in the mid 1990s.
I wouldn’t describe DiCaprio as unrecognizable in his role. Rather, his persona seems to have evolved from the wise, tough and skilled man to a man who is all of those things, but equally vulnerable. A person does not find his or herself sleeping in a horse carcass in a blizzard with a dead son and revenge on the mind without exhibiting the broken kind of soul that comes with it.
This film is immensely spiritual, and even though I’m an Atheist I mean that in the best way. Glass’ introspection on his Pawnee wife and son and the conflict between the real Americans and the Americans with guns and Christianity should touch the heartstrings of any citizen here. This film is a harsh reminder that although this country was founded on freedom and honor, it was equally founded by greed, blood and the theft of previously owned land.
I would not simply describe this film as a revenge story. It is about a broken man searching for redemption and a purpose in life without family and love. Glass’ name for that happens to be revenge.
I can’t end the review without mentioning the craft of the film, especially to the cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. It is one of the most beautiful films ever made, and in a way that serves the story and is not empty. I was in awe of the beautiful landscape that is now all but gone, and the pain the film’s hero went through attempting to survive in it.
Collegian Film Critic Morgan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@MDSFilms.