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‘The Revenant’: A haunting survival story

Leonardo DiCaprio’s charter Hugh Glass stares forbiddingly into the distance wrapped in a oversized bear pelt. Photo: 20th Century Fox.

In “The Revenant,” director Alejandro G. Iñárritu returns after winning the Academy Award for Best Picture for “Birdman” last year to share a gut-wrenching journey of a man fighting against the unstoppable forces of nature to achieve vengeance.

The movie follows the mostly true story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an expert tracker and hunter who suffers from a violent bear attack during a fur-trapping expedition in the 1820s. His companion, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), leaves him in the forest to die after killing Glass’s son (Forrest Goodluck), who tries to fight Fitzgerald. Glass becomes a legend when he manages to claws his way through thousands of miles of frozen wasteland with open wounds on a hunt for vengeance. A story of adversity and justice is eclipsed by one of personal development and rebirth, as every imaginable obstacle is thrown at Glass, only for us to see him emerge alive, but barely breathing.

DiCaprio’s performance is raw and haunting. The audience watches him scrape marrow out of frozen bones, catch a fish with his bare hands and cling for his life on a piece of driftwood at the whims of an immense river, and as we root for him all the way. Despite roughly a dozen lines of dialogue, DiCaprio maintains a strong vigor in his eyes that chills to the bone. In the end, this is DiCaprio’s film through and through; he is completely committed in every terrifying moment, pushing himself further than he ever has before as an actor and proving himself more than deserving of that “overdue Oscar.”

The supporting cast’s performance is equally raw and truthful, particularly that of Tom Harding, who manages to encompass the villain of lawless and ruthless frontiersmen, as well as Domhnall Gleeson, who plays the solemn and well-intended captain of the fur-trapping expedition.

Part of what makes watching “The Revenant” more entertaining is knowing the cast and crew of the survival story also went through multiple struggles to make it. Iñarritu took the cast and crew on a nine-month shoot in the wildernesses Alberta and Argentina. What’s more, contrary to the norm, he insisted on filming in chronological order and in natural light.

“The Revenant” is not for the light-hearted. The gore and blood encompasses the rough and uncertain reality of life on the frontier during that time. This further heightens the intensity of this gripping survival story.

One of the greatest achievements of the film is the way it manages to juxtapose the immense beauty of nature to the unforgiving conditions of life that stumbles alongside it. This is made possible through the sublime cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, who captures the the dark brutality of man in a scene when DiCaprio first finds the body of his son. The ragged breaths of a barely-breathing man fog up the camera lens as Dicaprio gazes at his son’s body, serving to embody the panic and rawness of his emotions.

Lubezki effectively proceeds to sweep us up in the ineffable beauty of nature, showcasing static shots of snow dripping from the tips of evergreen trees and vast expanses of iced valleys and churning rivers. The movie plays on the contrast between nature and man; every step of the journey feels treacherous yet simultaneously beautiful.

Iñarritu turns a gruelling frontier mythology into an ethereal, treacherous odyssey that continues to linger in your mind, haunting, for days after.

“The Revenant” is nominated for the following 11 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Mixing. “The Revenant” deserves to win “Best Picture,” “Best Actor,” “Best Director” and “Best Cinematography” for its ability to capture an audience with gripping camera work and its raw and authentic performances.

“The Revenant”

2 hours, 36 minutes

Rated: Rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity

Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter

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