DiCaprio Captivates as Wile E. Coyote of the Wild-Why Movie Lovers Must See THE REVENANT now:

By now if movie fans didn’t watch the interminable, yet champagne-fueled Golden Globes, they’ve heard about The Revenant’s win for best film, best director, and best actor. My distain for The Globes is well documented, but that doesn’t mean the voters comprising the Hollywood Foreign Press Association can’t get it right from time to time.   So what’s the big deal about THE REVENANT?

In film, everything old is new again.  At least to some of the major players in the industry.  Director George Miller’s extensive use of practical effects in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD not only got lots of press, but impressed the critics enough to play a major part in its inclusion on many a top ten list of 2015.  It actually has potential in the best film category at the Oscars this year.  Not a moment too soon, THE REVENANT was placed in theaters in the last days of 2015, and is only now getting wide release. Not to be left out of the tradition-meets-technology trend, Director Alejandro Inarritu, follows up his multi-Oscar winning BIRDMAN with a film that uses no computer generated imagery, and was filmed with only natural lighting.  The smartest directors in the world are clearly realizing that all the advancements in the film technology are for nought if they can’t be integrated with the best artistic elements used in film history to make something new, something more.

A brutally violent epic of determination and redemption, THE REVENANT is such a stunningly gorgeous, yet hauntingly powerful film, it deserves the many kudos and awards it’s likely to rack up in the next few months.  Watching it is like an assault to the senses and emotions, but the kind that gets its hooks into viewers, demanding immersion, commanding connection to the characters and story arc.  It is neither just visual splendor or compelling story, it is a balance of both.

A harsh environment and unpleasant working conditions isn’t always the stuff of cinematic success.  The cast and crew of The Revenant traipsed out into the vast wilderness of snowy Canada, as well as other difficult and remote locations for the arduous shoot, to get the naturalistic feel Innaritu wanted.  As they only used natural lighting, that meant hours of rehearsal and only a few hours a day, just after sunrise, and just before sunset during which to shoot.  The production was beset by many challenges and lots of crew changes, but the results arguably made all their hard work worth it, at least that’s likely what many cinephiles will say as they file THE REVENANT with some of the best films worthy of repeated viewing created in the last few years.

The cinematography by Gravity Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki brings visual elegance to the most visceral, blood-soaked scenes, but also grand, expansive vistas that fill the screen so artfully it seems hard to imagine an cinematic peers, although perhaps RAN or DREAMS by Akita Kurosawa come close.  Sadly, once again cinematographer Roger Deakins, Oscar’s always-the-bridesmaid with 12 nominations, who did wonderful work in SICARIO, will almost assuredly lose to THE REVENANT’s Lubezki, who created lasting moving images that will be studied for years to come.

Leonardo DiCaprio captivates in what recalls the worst struggles of cartoon character Wile E. Coyote, brought to painful reality in the portrayal of frontiersman Hugh Glass and his grueling survival experiences. He gets nearly mauled to death by a bear (impressively believable though created through CGI), falls off cliffs, gets shot, and nearly dies countless times, and just like the famed cartoon character he keeps going.  After being betrayed by a duplicitous fellow trapper (Tom Hardy) and left for dead, he is driven by grief and a need for revenge that lights in him afire to keep alive. This film is both a story about honor and evil in men, as well as man living with and in spite of the worst in nature.  DiCaprio, who has been nominated by The Academy five times, may find this is his year.  Some discount this film as not his very best work.  I’d disagree.  Though he has few lines to speak, his ability to capture and retain compassion from the audience is at the center of what makes THE REVENANT work.

If all the above explanations of THE REVENANT’s worthiness isn’t enough, let’s add the gorgeous score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who won an Oscar for 1987’s THE LAST EMPEROR, to the reasons this film will have lasting effect.  His music not only captures the atmosphere, but builds tension and aurally articulates the vastness of the wilderness in which the story takes place.   

When you go see THE REVENANT on the big screen, which you must if you’re wanting to get the full effect of Innaritu’s art, look for a particular scene involving an avalanche.  When watching it, remember it could only be done once for the lighting to be just right.  That’s a kind of obsessive craziness. and it makes for the best art.

Grade: A