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And the dead shall rise The Revenant'

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Film features stunning visuals, exceptional performances

Sometimes, Oscar buzz can be a bit much.

Take a movie like 'The Revenant,' for example. It seems like we've been hearing about this film's awards potential for months now. Not only is it writer/director Alejandro Inarritu's follow-up to last year's 'Birdman' last year's Best Picture winner that also snagged Inarritu a pair of trophies for Director and Original Screenplay but it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, whose desperate desire for Academy recognition has become increasingly overt.

But when you sit down to actually watch the film, none of that other stuff matters. What Inarritu and company have created in 'The Revenant' is something truly special a visually stunning, powerfully performed story of betrayal and revenge. So it turns out there's a reason that people think this movie is going to win a bunch of hardware - the reason being that it's really f---ing good.

DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a scout working with a team of fur trappers in the frontier wilderness of the early 19th century. He and his half-native son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck in his feature debut) help the trappers narrowly escape an attack from a band of natives seeking a kidnapped daughter of the tribe.

However, when a mother bear viciously attacks Glass, he is left torn apart and teetering on death's precipice. The leader of the trappers is Captain Henry (Domnhall Gleeson, 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens') is forced to make a difficult choice carrying Glass with them is simply impossible. So he asks for volunteers to stay with Glass until the end arrives. Two men offer to stay with Glass and Hawk the thoughtful Bridger (Will Poulter, 'The Maze Runner') and the vicious Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, 'Legend').

However, Fitzgerald's motivations prove less than altruistic; the end result is the still-gravely injured Glass left alone in the woods, buried alive in a shallow grave. What follows is Glass's excruciating recovery from his wounds as he struggles to survive the travails of the wilderness and the ever-present native war parties, all in an effort to track down and destroy the man who took everything from him and left him to die.

At its core, 'The Revenant' is a fairly simple revenge tale, one man seeking vengeance against those who wronged him. However, in the hands of someone like Inarritu, it becomes so much more, a meditation on the power of the will to overcome adversity. The simplicity of structure allows Inarritu the opportunity to flex his aesthetic muscles in a manner that is flat-out stunning.

That aesthetic springs from the collaboration between Inarritu and veteran director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki. This film was shot entirely in natural light in order to capture just the right look; the degree of difficulty in executing such a feat can't be overstated. Essentially, the actors and crew spent hours and hours rehearsing moments just so that they could be ready to capture them in the brief windows in which the light was right. The end result is a film that somehow feels both dreamlike and hyper-realistic at the same time a perfect fit.

As for DiCaprio, well he's great. Did you expect anything else? He's perhaps the most talented of his generation's movie stars; it's no surprise that he's excellent here. However, the manner of his excellence is something we've never seen before. Whether glib or gritty or somewhere in the middle, so much of DiCaprio's performance power has come from his verbal dexterity. However, in this movie, he barely speaks at all. He has a handful of spoken sentences; the rest of his performance is grunts and cries and other guttural noises. And yet he's magnetic. It's as if he has subverted his natural charisma (because make no mistake, this is not 'Titanic'-era dreamboat Leo) and found its opposite to be just as compelling. It is a tour de force of physical performance, an immersive and unsettling and incredibly effective turn that absolutely warrants all the attention it has received.

The supporting cast is outstanding in its own right. Tom Hardy growls and sneers his way through an absolutely magnetic performance; he inhabits that place where simple selfishness gives way to actual evil. Gleeson caps off a great 2015 with a great performance here; there's a disarming genuineness to everything that he does. The totality of his commitment here makes him well-suited for his heroic moments. Poulter is wonderful as well, his initial well-meaning tendencies giving way to the very visible heartbreak of his personal guilt.

'The Revenant' is a small story writ large, one man's battle to make right that which has gone wrong. It is as visually striking a film as we've seen this year, a master class on naturalistic aesthetics. It also features an excellent cast giving some incredible performances. In short, it more than earns all of the attention it has been paid.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 January 2016 21:57

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