For the second year in a row, director Alejandro González Iñárritu has delivered the year’s best film.
The best movie of 2015 is The Revenant, an eye-popping Western thriller that gives Leonardo DiCaprio the role that should finally score him that first Oscar. The innovative Iñaacute;rritu was also responsible for last year’s Birdman.
DiCaprio gives it everything he’s got as Hugh Glass, a scout working with some fur traders on the American frontier in the early nineteenth century. Glass, while doing his job, gets a little too close to a couple of bear cubs, and Mama Grizzly is not all too happy about such an occurrence.
What follows is a lengthy and vicious bear attack where Glass tangles with the nasty mother not once, but twice. Iñaacute;rritu, DiCaprio and some amazing visual technicians put you in the middle of that bear attack, minus the searing pain of actually having a bear’s claws and teeth rip through your flesh. Trust me when I tell you it’s an unforgettably visceral moment when that bear steps on DiCaprio’s head.
The attack happens early in the film, with Glass seemingly left at death’s door. The remaining party, including a conniving, paranoid trapper named John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), is left to decide what to do with him. Fitzgerald wants to put him out of his misery, much to the chagrin of Glass’s Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and the expedition’s leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson).
Henry decides to soldier on without Glass, leaving him behind to die with Fitzgerald, Hawk and young Jim Bridger (an excellent Will Poulter). Fitzgerald takes matters into his own hands, with Glass eventually buried alive and left for dead. This doesn’t sit well with Glass, who slowly recovers from his wounds and sets out to exact revenge on Fitzgerald.
So, yes, this is a revenge tale, and a rather simple one at that. Those looking for a spiritual and psychological examination of revenge containing long monologues need not attend. The Revenant is about the forces of nature, stunningly photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s about one man as he sets out on a killing mission. That mission, justified or not, is at the mercy of an uncaring wilderness that will throw everything it can at Glass to stop him in his tracks.
Some of what Iñaacute;rritu does here, the film’s few quieter, more meditative moments, reminds me of Terrence Malick, and that’s a good thing. I could watch good Malick films for eternity. For the most part, the movie is less about beautiful running rivers and more about surviving gaping neck wounds while fending off attacking Native Americans and antsy fur trappers. What Iñaacute;rritu and company achieve during these attack sequences is monumental. No movie has ever looked or felt like this during these moments. Throw in that bear attack, and you have a movie that will forever dent your skull.
DiCaprio doesn’t have much spoken dialogue. The majority of his performance consists of grunting, contorting his face and crawling on the ground (something he did memorably in The Wolf of Wall Street). His character has very few moments to smile, but when he does, it’s like having a warm blanket and whiskey-assisted hot cocoa poured down your throat after a week in sub zero temperatures. It’s a major relief from the torment.
Hardy and Gleeson, who are magnificent in the film, are two of the hardest working men in Hollywood right now. They both appeared in four major 2015 films, with Hardy also appearing in Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend and Child 44 and Gleeson showing up prominently in Brooklyn, Ex Machina and a little thing called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Given the notoriously long and nasty shooting schedule they had to endure for The Revenant, I have no idea how they managed to appear in those other films. They have mastered the art of scheduling events and tasks on their iPhones.
The Revenant is a masterpiece, and I suspect DiCaprio will get his Oscar. I also suspect camping numbers will take a plummet in the next year, while bear repellent sales will spike.