Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, David Kanter, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Mary Parent, James W. Skotchdopole, and Keith Redmon. Written by Mark L. Smith and Alejandro G. Inarritu. Release date: December 25, 2015 (limited), January 8, 2016 (wide).
There's been this prevailing theory out there that Leonardo DiCaprio is so desperate for an Academy Award that he refuses to star in anything but pictures that he believes will, at least, get him into consideration, if not an outright victory. That might explain why he wasn't found in a single film released in 2014; he was waiting for the right role. But, then, DiCaprio's never been an actor to star in more than a couple of movies a year. He's only had one year in which he's appeared in more than two films, and that was all the way back in 1995. He's been relatively selective throughout the entirety of his career, and while the roles he's chosen have typically been meatier than your average film will provide, is that in search of Oscar gold, or simply because these are the types of roles to which he wishes to dedicate himself?
The Revenant is DiCaprio's latest role, here starring as Hugh Glass, a frontiersman and fur trapper who begins the film leading an expedition in the early 1800s. But after a Native American attack, a bear mauling, and betrayal from one of the men he was leading (Tom Hardy), Glass is left for dead in the freezing cold, unable to walk or even speak. He, however, survives, and dedicates the rest of the film to tracking down the man who betrayed him in order to get revenge. That's it. It's a revenge movie, but set in unbelievably harsh conditions and starring an initially severely injured protagonist.
Based solely on that description, you might think that The Revenant is a tight 95-minute revenge thriller. Oh, how wrong you could be. This is a film that plays for over two and a half hours. Could it have been significantly shorter? Of course! The plot is barely there and it's often bereft of dialogue - particularly English dialogue. By the time the halfway point hits, you'll be tempted to look at your watch. Is that still a phrase? I suppose most people use their phones to tell the time nowadays, don't they? But if you look at your phone at the cinema, you're basically the worst person, so I'm going to stick with the watch thing.
Anyway, the reason that the film takes so long to get to where it wants to be is that the survival aspect to the story is often times the focus. Filmed in large part in my backyard, the cast and crew endured the conditions of the region in order to make the experience as authentic as possible. DiCaprio ate raw bison meat and battled the possibility of hypothermia. He swam in cold lakes, climbed inside animal carcasses, and so on. And it was all filmed with natural lighting. The point is, the filmmaking process very much part of the viewing experience; you really feel how it was to make the film while watching it.
As a result, you wind up both impressed with its realism, its raw and gritty result, and how it wasn't "faked," but you're also taken out of the experience because, well, you're thinking about how impressive it was that the filmmakers made it this way. And then maybe you wonder if it was all worth it. There's authenticity and then there's lunacy. Does risking hypothermia make it a better film? Or eating raw meat? Faking cold temperatures and food isn't extraordinarily difficult, and it's surely a lot safer. And as these thoughts cross your mind, while watching DiCaprio turn in this tremendous physical performance, you're wishing that you were more absorbed in what was happening.