Movie Review: The Revenant brings natural light to a dark month of cinema

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The Revenant is a long and wonderful film. It’s a slow freeze of story and character development that will leave you seeking warmth and shelter afterwards.

Last year, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu gave us the award-winning Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). But this year the director is giving us something more than a one shot of Michael Keaton in his tighty whities.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Image: 20th Century Fox

The Revenant is a revenge/survival story that takes place on the wild frontier when the early settlers started exploring the New World in the 1820s.

The film is inspired by true events and based in part on the novel, The Revenant by Michael Punke. The film boasts an all-star cast that includes the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Paul Anderson, Lukas Haas, Brendan Fletcher, and Kristoffer Joner.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Image: 20th Century Fox

Hired to help a bunch of fur traders navigate the wilderness and skirt around the local natives, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by his own hunting party. Guided by sheer will, love and the taste of revenge, Glass navigates a hostile environment in his quest to survive.

B.C.'s Gracey Dove played Leonardo DiCaprio's love interest. Image: CBC.ca

B.C.’s Gracey Dove played Leonardo DiCaprio’s love interest. Image: CBC.ca

Major kudos goes out to the “good Canadian kids” of actors and production crew who worked on this film. Actors like Isaiah Tootoosis (Sask.), Robert Molony (B.C.), Duane Howard (B.C.), Gracey Dove (B.C.), Brendan Fletcher (B.C.), Vincent Leclerc (QC), to name a few.

The production was shot in rural parts of British Columbia and Alberta until shooting fell way behind schedule. A lack of snow (due to Summer approaching) pushed the filming of the final scenes to Argentina.

This film is beautifully shot, and besides the fantastic performances from DiCaprio and Hardy, the real star of the motion picture is the Canadian mountain wilderness.

Cinematographer extraordinaire Emmanuel Lubezki (a two time Oscar winner) decided to use everything the Rockies provided, including the natural light. There was no cozy studio with a green screen used in this film.

The problem with the artistic choice of “perfect natural light,” is that it can sometimes be hard to come by in the middle of a Canadian winter, especially when you only have a small window of daylight within a dark and thick forest.

Alberta wilderness. Image: 20th Century Fox

Alberta wilderness. Image: 20th Century Fox

Combine that with the fact that director Alejandro Gonzalez wanted to film everything in chronological order, which in turn created a lot of cold and grumpy cast and crew members freezing their asses off while waiting for the perfect shot, and you have the recipe for a troubled production.

CINEMA FACTOID: Tom Hardy was so upset about the long delays and the stunt work required that it caused friction between him and Alejandro Gonzalez. The two got in a heated argument, where they wrestled to the ground, and Hardy slapped on a rear naked choke. The image of Hardy strangling Gonzalez was immortalized in a T-shirt gifted by Hardy to all members of the crew at the end of the shoot.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Image: 20th Century Fox

In Alberta, Damian Petti, president of film-workers union IATSE 212, confirmed that there were safety concerns and high turnover on the troubled set. Many called the entire ordeal a “living hell.” After seeing The Revenant, I call it suffering for the art.

Leonardo DiCaprio did just that. When this actor goes balls to the wall for a role you can expect the man to make sure his entire experience is as visceral as possible. From actually sleeping in animal carcasses, eating raw bison liver (he’s vegetarian), and having to endure freezing cold temperatures where hypothermia was a concern, Leo led the cast and crew by example. His performance was the most raw, primal performance the actor has ever given. How long can The Academy deny the man his statue?

Image: 20th Century Fox

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald Image: 20th Century Fox

Tom Hardy is equally brilliant as John Fitzgerald, the dirty and cynical villain of the story. To get into the role, he spent time watching Tom Berenger’s performance in 1986s Platoon.

The entire cast was solid, but as I mentioned above, the real star of this film was the cinematography. There are so many long takes and breath taking shots (literally and figuratively) that the realism permeates through the screen and seeps into the theater. You will feel the urge to put on your parka and toque eh.

Now, if you go into this film thinking that you’ll see a good ol’ fashion bear rape scene, as reported by some ignorant blogger, then I’m sorry to inform you that there’s no penetration just some rough foreplay. But that scene should get the respect it deserves as a one of the best bear maulings you’ll ever see on film.

That specific scene is so bloody, and brutally intense, that it’s just downright hard to watch. It’s not alone either and this review should serve as fair warning that there are many unsettling scenes in a film in which the director spares neither his characters nor the audience.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Image: 20th Century Fox

Most revenge films are often made up of testosterone-fueled characters with guns a blazing. However here Inarritu opts for a more somber and tense tone. This is a slow moving and more serious-minded story that plays out like a Western, albeit not the traditional “cowboys and Indians” affair we have become accustomed to.

We no longer have the cliché stereotypes; instead we get a more balanced approach that is based on real human nature. The Natives do have the feathers, guns, bows and arrows along with a thirst for blood. But on the other hand, there were natives who were more compassionate and came to Glass’ aid. I think it was a fair representation of the crazy times.

The Revenant is not for everyone, but it’s an experience that should be reserved for the big screen. Do yourself a favor, if you’re a true cinephile or film buff, don’t short change yourself and opt for the online screener that can be found. Go and support a film that deserves to be seen in all its stunning glory in an actual theatre. You’ll watch this film and feel like it’s truly Canadian as Alberta and British Columbia never looked better.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Image: 20th Century Fox

I’m giving The Revenant 4.5 out of 5 DiCaprio blood droplets. This is one of the best films of 2015/2016.

This film is rated R and can now be seen in Canada.

4.5 Rain Drops

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About the author

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Trevor Dueck Lover of film. I rate them with cute little raindrops. I'm also always on the lookout for interesting stories and experiences. Lover of talk radio and podcasting and occasionally host them. I do like writing about many other devious things. Favourite films of 2015 so far are "Ex Machina" and "Mad Max: Fury Road."
@TrevDueck

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