It’s not that often that I come across a film where, by the end, I was convinced that it was specifically designed to be seen only in theaters, and seeing it on any other venue would most likely severely diminished the viewing experience and enjoyment of the film itself. This extends, kinda, even to watching the trailer for the film. Despite being a big fan of Iñárritu’s Birdman and familiar of his prowess as a director with great visual style, I had to see the trailer in an actual movie theater before I was convinced to go see it. The frantic energy, sheer roughness and stunning cinematography just didn’t translate at all when I first saw the trailer on my iPad. It just looked ambiguously bland. The contrast between seeing the trailer on a small screen and then on a large theater screen is simply stunning, they are completely different beats. Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant is executed with such savant mastery that it can only be experienced properly on a massive sized screen, and once you do so, it just blows you away.
Despite it being the middle of winter and it was freezing cold outside, for whatever reason it was kinda chilly in the theater where I saw the film. It was as if they had left the AC overnight, it was ridiculous. It was almost tedious to bear with, as the chills were distracting you from getting properly immersed with the film, but at a certain point I suddenly began to surmise that perhaps it was that the cold temperature was deliberate, there by design, and they, with the capital T, intentionally wanted to simulate the bitter coldness that DiCaprio’s character had to endure while he slowly make his way forward in the wilderness, while he hunted the killer of his son. You know, like when back in the day they did stuff like hook up the seat so that they could give you electric shocks, or hired actors to run out of the theater in panic, in attempt to make the horror movies feel really scary to the people who were waiting in line to get to the next showing. And you know what, it did kinda work. After awhile, it helped me to get into the similar state of mind where you felt like you were right next to Leo, shivering from the cold.
As a film, The Revenant is a highly visceral experience. It’s a visually stunning, small and simple epic of a story of wilderness, survival and revenge. There is not that much plot, as it is very much style over substance kind of a film, but as an aesthetic buff, this type of storytelling really appealed to me and made for a thrilling ride. The savage hardships, harsh brutality and bone breaking anguish and heartbreak that Leo’s character experiences throughout the story was gripping stuff. Actually, at a certain point you just kinda want Leo’s character to call a time out, due to how much physical abuse he goes through in the course of the film. The bear attack in particular was pretty amazing, and piqued my interest to know just how they actually did it from a technical POV. My eyes could still tell the bear was not real the whole time, but they do a very good job of convincing you otherwise. I can’t remember anymore if it was suppose to be one long take when the bear ravages Leo, but in any case, the entire attack sequence looked great, horribly painful and beautifully captured the brutality of a bear attack and how helpless as man is against a ferocious beast of that size, when it is trying to protect its cubs.
Before I forget and jump straight to DiCaprio’s performance, let’s just say Tom Hardy as the antagonist of the piece, Fitzgerald, was great. Hardy is always dependable, and this one was just another reason why he’s always a pleasure to see on the big cinema screen. His Fitzgerald was a selfish bastard, but Hardy managed to portray him in a slightly reasonable (to a point) way that felt not only understandable, but very real, without ever turning him into a cartoon villain, even when he was being driven only by his own self-interest and greed. He was able to breath in some real substance to his character, despite the part very easily being that of a one-dimensional bad guy.
To close this thing up, it’s not hard to see why people had such strong feelings regarding the picture one way or another, especially when as we got closer Oscar season and people began to complain how Leo does not deserve an Oscars simply because acting in the film was kinda rough due to the circumstances surrounding the shoot, or that Leo at one point ate an actual raw liver. Now, personally I don’t really care one way or another. I have not always been one of Leo’s biggest fans, but to me, he gave a great performance and when the part required a lot of quietness, and doing a lot of emoting only through his expressions and face, rather than through dialog, he managed to pull it off exceptionally well, especially early on when he was slowly healing from the wounds of the bear attack and barely could make produce any sound at all. It doesn’t really matter if his acting was Oscar worthy, the Oscars are kinda joke sometimes with whom they choose to honor at any given year anyway, so it’s not like merit alone is the deciding criteria. Within the movie, Leo was able to give you a compelling display of crippling anguish, the veracious tenacity to survive and above all, his silent, hellbent drive for retribution made for one heck of a performance in a way that felt 100% true and real, and that’s enough for me.