After a handful of delays I finally got to see the Revenant last night at a near midnight showtime. The film is about 2.5 hours long so in the twilight of the Thursday midnight opening it might be one of the last opportunities to see a theater in a completely desolate state afterward; with nary an employee in sight. This film is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least of which being its relative basis on a factual story. There are various elements that are constructed or adjusted for the film for obvious reasons but the actual core of the story, i.e. man gets mauled by Grizzly Bear, is left for dead, then crawls for 200 miles back to civilization seeking retribution, appears to be something that actually happened.
The first part of the film is a bit longer than I was expecting, but it did give the director an opportunity to introduce the characters and have them speak actual dialogue for a while. For the majority of the film very little is actually spoken, and I think the big reason why this is Dicaprio’s best performance to date is that he didn’t have to talk much (and about half of his dialogue is in a different language). A big issue Dicaprio and many other actors have is falling into the trap of playing almost the exact same character in every movie; regardless of the design of the character itself. This isn’t the same as being typecast, it’s simply a style of acting that lacks in range. However if you totally negate that aspect and make 90% of the acting physical: groaning, gurgling, crawling, limping; then it works pretty damn well.
Visually this film is absolutely gorgeous and was almost exclusively filmed in the wilderness of Canada (where the film is largely set) in natural light settings. The innumerable difficulties that this poses have been well documented, but it is certainly a fantastic achievement in cinematography alone. There is an odd obsession with the usage of rivers in the film which makes the exact way that Dicaprio survives seem a bit specious at times; but hey it’s a really ridiculous survival story to begin with so you should be able to bend your logic circuits a bit. I did find it odd that they never addressed Hugh Glass’ broken leg/foot directly, since setting a bone is a somewhat common film device lately why not have it in the Revenant somewhere, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.
The rest of the cast is very solid, Tom Hardy’s great as you might expect considering he’s Tom Hardy. Domhnall Gleeson delivers possibly his best performance ever, though it’s more an exceptionally competent role instead of an extraordinary one. The film has no real weaknesses and is basically a mish mash of Castaway, The Grey, and No Country for Old Men; with only the final film in that list really being on par with this one. Of course I still have to answer the big question, and no the Revenant is not better than Mad Max; it’s certainly the best not Mad Max of the year though.
Aside: I saw Snowpiercer recently since for some reason the upgraded Comcast interface is basically Netflix; really fantastic movie I’d probably stick it in 3rd for 2014 tentatively, behind Edge of Tomorrow and Birdman. Chris Evans is great in not Captain America roles (not to disparage the Cap), also worth watching in the Iceman starring Michael Shannon; another true story except about an incredibly prolific contract killer/family man.