Having watched almost every Best Picture nominee ever at this point, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea what The Academy looks for in a film. The Revenant definitely has many of these elements from a based on real events story to a lead actor sacrificing himself for his art. It’s for these reasons and more that The Revenant leads this year’s Oscar race with an impressive twelve nominations including a Best Actor nod for Leonardo DiCaprio who I feel is destined to finally getting his hands on a prize that has eluded him several times in the past.
The Revenant sees DiCaprio play navigator Hugh Glass; a man tasked with helping a hunting party navigate their way through the Louisiana Purchase in 1823. Early on in the film Glass’ party, which is commanded by Andrew Henry, is ambushed by a group of Native Americans with the hunters losing many of their number in the process. Escaping on a boat, Glass advises the men that the best way to evade capture is to traverse through the mountains something one of his colleagues John Fitzgerald is less than keen on. During their trek, Glass is mauled by a bear with the group unsure about what to do with him. Eventually Fitzgerald, another party member Bridger and Glass’s son Hawk all agree to stay with him however it’s clear that Fitzgerald doesn’t want to stay around. Fitzgerald’s initial attempts to kill off Glass are disrupted by Hawk who is later killed by the film’s antagonist who later convinces Bridger to bury the wounded man alive. From there The Revenant becomes a tale of survival with Glass trying to triumph over the bitter snow and the many enemies that lurk around the next corner.
Just like The Martian, The Revenant is at its best when it focuses on its protagonist’s attempts to survive in a barren landscape with little help from anyone else. DiCaprio is absolutely fantastic in the lead role and from the get go makes you sympathise with Glass as a man trying to get the job done and be a good farther to his half-native son. Due to the physical nature of DiCaprio’s performance we are compelled by Glass’s progress and the actor is able to convey his character’s feelings about each individual hardship. However, when DiCaprio wasn’t on the screen my attention wandered a little bit especially when we spent time with the Native American tribes or the French soldiers. One thing I didn’t mind though was spending time in the company of Fitzgerald and Bridger mainly because of the performances given by both Tom Hardy and Will Poulter. Hardy’s Best Supporting Actor nomination is more than deserved as he almost steals the film away from DiCaprio with his almost inaudible delivery and snarling expression establishing him as the bad guy immediately. Poulter is also great as the young soldier torn between his duty to Glass and his fear of Fitzgerald with his story really being one of the film’s more interesting.
Aside from the performances the other element of The Revenant that’s really striking is the way that its filmed and more specifically how you’re almost instantly gripped by the action. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s decision not to use any computer-enhanced technology to The Revenant more than pays off as the film has a raw quality that’s missing from a lot of today’s cinema. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki lays his cards on the table right from the off as the punishing attack from the Native Americans that Glass’ group suffers is an indication of what’s to come. Lubezki’s camera made me feel like I was witnessing every death first hand and had me on the edge-of-my-seat as the group tried to make it towards their boat. Although The Revenant was more than just a film of set pieces, there were certain moments that stood out because of the cinematography namely Glass’ attack at the hands of the bear and the final showdown between he and Fitzgerald. Suffice to say I do feel Lubezki is in line for his third Oscar in a row following his wins for Gravity and Birdman over the last two years. The entire production design team deserve a similar amount of praise for creating a barren wilderness which Glass has to survive in and one that he may believably perish in at any given moment. Furthermore the Oscar-nominated hair and make-up team were also on top form here giving the primary cast increasingly wilder facial hair as the film progressed.
Whilst it appears in most categories at the Oscars, The Revenant fails to make an appearance in the screenplay categories, one of only two Best Picture nominees this year not to do so. I have to say that I would agree with this decision as if there’s one minor niggle I have with The Revenant it’s the way its story is told. I would’ve preferred the focus to have been solely on Glass and Fitzgerald rather than the other tribes occupying the area. Although some of these scenes were necessary in getting to the final, I felt that Iñárritu and co-writer Mark L Smith spent too long in areas that they didn’t need to. At well over two and half hours, The Revenant did drag a bit for me but luckily the power of Hardy and DiCaprio’s performances pulled me through the film’s duller moments. Ultimately, while it’s not perfect, The Revenant is leading the pack for me so far in terms of the Best Picture nominees. This is due to the fact that the film delivers completely in most areas and is compelling for the majority of its extended run time. The performances from the leads are great and if Leo doesn’t finally receive his Best Actor Oscar after almost killing himself here then I do wonder what he actually has to do to win an Academy Award.
Next Time we’ve more Tom Hardy for you as I revisit Mad Max: Fury Road