Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Revenant

The Revenant is a film bathed in brutality, featuring a primal kind of beauty shot through gritty, unforgiving lenses, indulgent in its unrelenting violence. The sweeping grandeur of the picture is formed on the momentum of its visceral imagery, immeasurable precision and nuance lie within every stroke and shot. This is cinema that has your heart sitting in your throat, your fingers clutching your seat as every sight and sound assaults your senses, creating the calamitous and joyous product of a hearty Western thriller, a trying survival tale and a vengeance story all in one. It settles as a film that no less demands your focus and unquestionably deserves it, affirming its value with the raging melancholy, anger, hate, fear, urgency, and pain that is built so unceremoniously into every second of the film. The sprawling story, a cosmic creature which swells and intensifies, is enriched by an array of disturbed sub-plots as the audience is pulled deeper and deeper into the deliciously unhinged experience of breathing alongside a revenant, maddened and driven to every act by grief. 

Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio), his half-native son and his only surviving companions, after escaping a savage surprise attack on their fur trapping bivouac by Arikara Native Americans, begin their journey back to their outpost. While trekking to safety, out of the reaches of the bloodthirsty tribe, Glass is brutally mauled by a female grizzly bear and left in a near fatal condition. A series of events, betrayals, deceptions and murders leads to his hunting team abandoning him. Recovery and pursuit take order, an aching desire for vengeance is not superseded by a need to survive, but acts as its complete motivation.

The Revenant is an endurance test, but not the type you'd expect. It is never tedious, mundane or monotonous, as it consistently captivates and startles but the frenzy and the savagery is prolonged and unyielding. The sharp realism of the feature is intermittently interrupted with jarringly surreal dream sequences. The visual style here shifts bizarrely from the gritty, untamed and graphic naturalism to segments so dense with symbolism you feel as though you've stepped into a Tarkovsky movie: faces drift about the frames, the screen runs ruin and careless with images of skulls stacked upon skulls, wildfires and ruins, lovers and love ones, dead, alive, young and gone. These visuals are created of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski, cemented now in his place as the greatest DoP of his time. The prolific DoP is known most widely for his work with one of the most polarising directors of the decade, Terrence Malick, a man some call genius, and others deem pretentious. However, what visual artistry Malick leans too heavily on, losing unanimous favour to achieve his distinctively fluid style, Alejandro González Iñárritu beholds as a terrifying weapon, demonstrating his capacity to utilise elementary components to heighten and to fully realise his vision.

The Revenant is the perfect demonstration of why the substance-over-style criticism of cinema is largely obsolete. Cinema is a moving image, not a novel where mere emotions are reduced to the spoken or the written word. It reminds that substance lies within the style, it lives in the music and the visuals, in the beauty of suggestion and nuance, hidden within the hypnotic symphony of choreographed movements by actors in a game, set designs whether they be elaborate, banal, natural or computer generated, costumes and orchestras, edited in post and delivered to the cinema ready to tell a simple story in a big way. It is a question of interpretation, a liberty reserved for the viewer.

In The Revenant, artistry is found in more than the visuals. It exists within the profound score, a haunting collection of mournful strings, indistinguishable from the impeccable sound-mixing which surges and wanes, Di Caprio, assiduous and deranged in his role, meticulously portrayed and more than convincing (the Oscar finally his) and of course, Iñárritu's trademark techs: his sustained shots, his love of silence and his circumspect, reverent treatment of dark material. With The Revenant, Iñárritu has fashioned an exquisite piece of cinema, eloquence at its core, and flair to the finish.


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