If you have been waiting for months to watch ‘The Revenant’, be forewarned it is not one for the faint-hearted. That this could be the case is alluded to five minutes into the runtime, when you have barely settled in for, perhaps, a popcorn-munching, cola-guzzling, sweet-faced Leo-watching binge that you are yanked out of your cosiness by a violent attack scene, thereby preparing you for a possible further assault of bloodiness, and thrusting you into a sustained state of alertness and stoicism. You will need a lot of those – either those or a deep slumber – for there is no let-up in the gore and violence following that. Whether it be the bear-mauling or arrows piercing foreheads & torsos and jutting out from the other side or axes slashing off appendages or mauled & mangled flesh or even Nature doing its thing, director Iñárritu’s goriness is remarkably realistic in detail and in-the-face – as opposed to the sanguine tongue-in-cheekiness of, say, Tarantino.
What emerges, slowly, is the surprising evolution of Tom Hardy’s acting – when you had had dismissed him as simply an improved version of Vin Diesel. With the evil on his face and in his voice – and as opposed to the over-the-top portrayal of evil in TDKR – so palpable you would actually hate him. Then there is Lubezki’s camera work- conjuring up angles and heights, sneaking into corners you would not expect, contributing to so much of the in-the-face visceral nature of the visual that sometimes the only respite you could get is by looking away. But then you would also miss his wizardry.
That brings us to Leonardo’s performance. It is hard to calibrate Leonardo’s acquittal – seasoned that he is – against the backdrop of the overwhelming circumstances depicted in the movie. Leonardo has pulled off quite a list of challenging roles in the past, where it was hard to discern Leo the man from the character he played – but here, where he speaks all of ten lines distributed equally over the first 10 minutes and the last 20 minutes, you are left to wonder whether he would be far ahead of the pack were his peers also to portray the daunting hardships that Hugh Glass must go through. In other words, it is a cakewalk for him, or maybe, the effortlessness is to blame. Which is to say, if he wins an Oscar this time, it was because he has been long owed one.
Meanwhile, director Iñárritu, in going for the jugular, does pull off the gore and treachery of circumstances in glorious detail but then he cannot stop any intended themes of relationships – between man & nature, civilisation & savagery, man & family – from submerging in that very sea of blood and breathtaking scenery. One theme in particular – visions and whispers of his dead wife – falls short in eliciting any sense of connect. Then you could fault him for the runtime, and since he is also partly credited with the screenplay, for also the story, because it feels incredulous that a character should be faced with insurmountable clichéd tragedy after tragedy, and also come up trumps in the end. In short, Iñárritu did better on ‘Birdman’.
Ultimately, however, ‘The Revenant’ descends into revenge saga territory, and by the time Glass has finally laid hands on Fitz (Hardy)- and you knew he would half an hour into the movie- you are left wishing you were over with it already, for only after you have freed yourself from the overpowering grip of it all, can you sit down to objectively separate the performances of the crew from the grandeur of the gore.