In just a few words I think I can give you a fairly apt description of Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s The Revenant. It’s like a National Geographic documentary shot with a script. That is a compliment. Honestly it is one of the greatest compliments I could give to a movie of its type. I want to give tremendous credit to the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and the leading actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy but the person whose work is easily the most impressive in the creation of this cinematic beauty is the cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki. His shots of the landscape and angles on the action created this truly immersive atmosphere that sucks the audience into the story. It made the action seem like a documentary that some brave film crew was just there to capture. Sort of like National Geographic photojournalists documenting events in some remote corner of the earth. The action just seemed to be happening around them. The script and the acting added to this of course. The performances of the actors seemed real and very honest. It all worked well together to create this awesome very natural seeming experience of observing Old West America but the cornerstone of this movie was definitely the cinematography. Lubezki gets these shots that allow the audience to grasp the grandeur of the environment. I love seeing the characters traverse snow suffocated valleys with immense snow covered mountain ranges dwarfing them in the background. Lubezki’s action sequences were equally fantastic. I was particularly struck by the way he filmed the sequence of the camp being attacked and the escape of the remaining members of the fur trapping party to the boat in the river. It felt like you were there. The furious kinetic action of the moment was followed with this smooth camera motion that had the effect of slowing things down without losing their energy. Probably doesn’t make any sense because I can’t describe. You’ll know if you’ve seen it. Or you’ll find out when you see it. You will want to see it.
Although the story is about Leonardo DiCaprio’s character surviving the elements to get his revenge on Tom Hardy’s character, you realize that his primary foe is the hostile environment that he must make it through. It’s this cool experience to know that he is surrounded by all this beauty that strikes the audience as breathtaking but represents mortality and a real threat of death to his character. The juxtaposition of the landscapes majesty and it’s danger is made real by the gorgeous wide shots that sweep across the landscape.
Leonardo DiCaprio does a fantastic job of delivering his character. He portrayed the pain of a man going through such an experience with a palpably real rendition. The audience could feel the desperate love and care he held for his son. Tom Hardy was John Fitzgerald. He channeled the depth of the character’s motivations and thoughts in such a way that made the character appear to be a person in a documentary more than a character acted out in front of the screen. Better than a person in a documentary but more like a person being filmed from a hidden camera. His portrayal of the emotion and scatter-brained rationalizations of his character made Fitzgerald instantly recognizable in his personage. Two actors that will likely be overlooked because of the lack of star power in their names are Forest Goodluck, the young man who plays Hawk, the son to Leo’s, Hugh Glass. He had relatively few lines. But to that point, only Tom Hardy has a good amount of lines in the story. You don’t particularly need lines when you are acting with all of your being as was the case with Goodluck. The other character that was captivating in his role was in this story is Arthur RedCloud who played the character Hikuc. If you don’t remember who that is, he is the Pawnee man who helps Hugh Glass on his journey across the wilderness. He gives him food and builds for him a shelter so that he can ride out the storm and regain a bit of his strength after he falls ill on the journey. He gave a masterful performance that leaves an indelible mark on the narrative. He also imparts some knowledge and perspective on Glass.
The narrative is extremely simple. It isn’t much too it at all but that is not to decry the narrative. Simple narratives can be the best when they are done right. You don’t need an overly complicated plot when it comes to rich performances and ingenious cinematography. An honest, simple narrative that lends itself to being developed through thoughtful writing and thorough execution is what The Revenant is. Personally, I think that the director and writers were smart to know to limit plot devices which develops a unquestionable credibility to the authentic feel of the story.