For Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s second blockbuster hit, we are transported to Montana and South Dekota, USA during the 1800s – a time where selling animal pelt, horses and weaponry were the main source of income, with a backdrop of blistering cold.
Following the style of camerawork displayed in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Inarritu uses carefully constructed long takes which give the film an artistic and professional edge of flawless and meticulous construction. The stunning locations, carefully picked and lit without artificial light sources, enable the film to stay true to these stunning locations – by shooting them as naturally as possible. As awkward and painstaking this may have been for the production crew by giving them only a certain amount of shooting time throughout each day, the end result gives a depth and earthiness to the picture.
The use of only natural light brings a deeper and richer tone to the films’ colour scale – with intense blues that melt perfectly into the bright whites of the snow, and are not lost in the greys. The contrasts of colour, like blood on snow or intense golden sunrises over the frozen landscape are wonderfully captured.
The way that the film encapsulates trees, water and snow is crucial to the construction of these locations in the film – with wide angle shots of forests and rivers that emphasise the vast space of this arctic wasteland. Inarritu uses clarity of water as a reflective tool often, keeping the film as close to and as tied in with nature as possible.
One interesting point to make about the cinematography was the way in which close ups are used in the film. When a character is framed in a close up of their face, and they breathe, the camera lens steams up. This technique is used in order to accentuate the freezing temperatures of the characters’ surroundings – but it also brings the audience out of the action by reminding them of the medium – you are watching a film and are asked to be aware of that. I believe this is a great way of engaging the audience with the medium by asking them to be aware of the films’ technicalities.
In ties with the cinematography, is the films’ use of sound. A tribal style is used, with drums and percussion making up the main bulk of the films’ score – which can also be linked to the sound used in Birdman. It fits perfectly here, though, as a subtle tool used to build tension – which is used particularly well in the films’ climactic ending.
It would be impossible to review this film without talking about the visual effects. The infamous grizzly bear scene has become a major talking point when referencing the film, even amongst those who have not yet seen the movie. The bear was made completely from CGI, and when shooting the scene Leonardo Di Caprio was harnessed up and yanked around by production crew members. The grizzly was added in during post-production, and the end result is brutal and hard to watch, as Di Caprio delivers a blood-curdling scream of pain as the digital bear rips at his skin.
The reason for creating the bear completely from CGI was due to bears of this day and age being too ‘fat’, as Inarritu stated, and that bears in the 1800’s looked much different to the bears that we see in captivity today. The bear created for the film is realistic in texture, appearance and the way that it moves, and its’ interaction with Di Caprio’s Hugh Glass is incredible in its’ believability despite the actor having nothing to interact with during filming. In addition to the bear, a model horse and buffalo, and make-up scars that Di Caprio wears all stand out as incredibly realistic visual effects.
One of the films’ biggest flaws is it’s simplistic storyline, which features some decent-sized loopholes. The biggest example would be the complete indestructibility of Hugh Glass. He is mauled horrifically by a bear until he is unable to move and speak, however without any medical attention (bar some rough stitching under no anaesthetic) he somehow manages to get to his feet and survive weeks of trudging through -20 degree landscape. This is supposed to be an epic survival story, sure – the difficult and near-impossible experiences of a desperate man – however some of the films’ events are so wildly insane that they pull you out of the story to think ‘really?’.
The length of the film is difficult too, but instead of a flaw I found this to be one of the films’ merits. Nearing three hours of slow, long takes and repetitive action with limited dialogue finds you wishing for something exciting to happen, and willing for the plot to move ahead. This impatience that the audience feels is a great feature of the film, because it forces the audience to be patient and appreciate the small details and Glass’ struggle. The urgency you want the film to take gives Inarritu the power, and the audience is ultimately rewarded by a spur of intense action with quick cuts and action that leaves you gasping and hanging off the edge of your seat.
The cast were a credit to the film, with incredible performances from all. Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson give heartwarming, strong performances as the films’ ultimate good-guys, victims of circumstance with great senses of morality – which shines through in their performances. Leonardo Di Caprio may be faulted by others for his lack of dialogue – for most of the film he is alone and wounded, grunting his way through the film. To me, however, this is exactly the reason he should be given credit for the film. He relies solely on body language, on emotion, and without the luxury of playing off another actor. You believe that he is in pain. You believe his sorrow for his losses. And in addition, he really did eat a real, raw bison liver, and the vomiting reaction you see is genuine – due to Di Caprio being a vegetarian. If that doesn’t scream dedication, I’m not sure what does.
Tom Hardy’s performance as John Fitzgerald, the films’ antagonist, is near flawless. In his best, well-recognised villain voice, Hardy portrays a nasty, calculating murderer – and so well that you can’t help but hate him. The films’ climactic last scene between Di Caprio and Hardy brings together the creme-de-la-creme of acting ability in an intense and heart-pounding few minutes of fast cut action, perfectly acted and brilliantly executed, leaving the audience dizzy from excitement and satisfied with the final outcome. A rollercoaster of emotions ranging from eager impatience to stunned silence to intense anticipation, The Revenant is not to be missed.