Each month, Good Times' resident film critic, Sarah Smyth, chooses a hotly anticipated film for our readers. For January, she picks the chilling revenge drama, The Revenant.
When Leonardo DiCaprio missed out on an Oscar for Best Actor at the 2014 Academy Awards, the Internet had a lot of feelings.
Despite working with prestigious directors such as Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg and Baz Luhrmann, in serious films with demanding roles, the Academy continues to overlook his work. Despite his most committed attempts at winning the award, DiCaprio remains Oscar-less.
This year, however, DiCaprio might prove to have just the right combination of Oscar-bait to win over the Academy. In his latest film, The Revenant, he plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who survives a savage bear attack and is left for dead by his fellow companions. The film then follows him as he travels through the wilds of the US Midwest in the bitter winter to avenge the man who abandoned him after the attack.
All the ingredients are ripe for the Academy’s attention. The story is based on a true story with real-life characters and events, adding the Academy’s much-loved weight and heft to the story. DiCaprio is supported in his role by an array of respected but relatively fresh actors, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter. Most importantly, however, the film is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose five feature films, Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) have all gained critical acclaim and numerous awards. For Babel, Iñárritu was the first Mexican director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directing. In 2015, he won the Oscar not only for Best Director, but also for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture for Birdman. Iñárritu promises not only to have the directorial flair to produce an exquisite film and (hopefully) an awards-worthy performance for DiCaprio. He also holds a prominent and esteemed position within the film industry to garner the attention of awarding bodies.
This is not to say that the film is nothing more than simply a vehicle for DiCaprio’s Oscar dreams. For one, the film looks stunning. Through the cinematography and the camerawork, every frame emphasises Hugh Glass’ stark and icy desolation and isolation, reflecting the dark existentialism his situation faces. This was accomplished through the stunning achievement of filming entirely on location in chronological order in some extreme weather conditions using only natural light. Iñárritu’s commitment to using the natural wilderness as a key storytelling method and reproducing it through an authentic shoot is such that when filming a scene where the trappers get attacked down a river by Ree Warriors, Iñárritu decided that the original river wasn’t dangerous enough. He uprooted the shoot to British Columbia, causing huge financial and logistical implications.
The film is also a lesson in cinematic style as The Revenant is filmed in a single-take. Iñárritu already experimented with this style in his previous feature, Birdman, although the history of the one-shot feature film goes back to Alfred Hitchcock’s famously homoerotic psychological crime thriller, Rope. This style of filmmaking lends itself well to creating an unrelenting, claustrophobic yet fluid frame. But, as Iñárritu admits, it causes an incredibly complicated and demanding shoot. In interviews, he has admitted to asking himself, “what the fuck am I doing here?” during the shoot.
Nevertheless, the difficulties involved in making the film are likely to pay off. Early notices suggest the reviews will be glowing and the film will likely garner awards attention. As for DiCaprio, his dedication to this role has been intense. His commitment to authenticity is to the extent that he actually ate raw buffalo liver and crawled inside the carcass of a dead horse. DiCaprio has started his Oscar campaign on a serious note. Let’s hope for his sake (and that of the buffalo and horse), that it pays off.
Why it’s worth seeing? Films that garner awards-buzz are not always deserved of the accolade. However (if only for the feat of cinematic spectacle and location-based shooting), The Revenant promises to justify the hype. Combined with Iñárritu’s impressive directorial talents and DiCaprio’s intensely committed performance, The Revenant is one not to be missed.
Have you seen it yet? Tell us more!
Sarah is our regular film blogger. Learn more about her here.