“When you see the film, you will see the scale of it. And you will say, ‘Wow’.” – Director Alejandro González Iñárritu to critics of his latest feat, The Revenant.
Adapted from Michael Punke‘s novel of the same name, this brutal period piece follows Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life 19th century fur trapper Hugh Glass on a quest for survival and revenge after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions to spends months crawling around the untamed American wilderness. I’m not usually into “man versus elements” epics, but DiCaprio described it as virtual reality —“it’s the closest thing to being submerged in nature. In the bear attack, you can almost feel the breath of the bear” – and this turned out to be true.
Iñárritu made the unusual choice to shoot the film in sequence, using only natural light, insisting that computer-generated imagery not be used to enhance the film. This took nine months to shoot because the story starts in autumn, moves into winter, ends in deep winter and 92% of the locations are exterior. It was also shot chronologically with the exciting new Alexa 65 camera system through compromising weather conditions.
Locations were super specific, I mean, imagine being completely reliant on the weather but having to plan a battle at a specific creek, training horses three months in advance – there is minimal scope for improvising, unless if done with extreme precision. And it shows. The beautifully tense tone and immersive cinematography are well matched, tightly executed, and in tune with the American frontiers as the extreme limit of settled land beyond which lies wilderness.
This is offset by a musical score composed by Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto (who got into film from a career in experimental electronics) that slinks toward spasms of bloodshed, with long brooding bouts of quiet in between glacial chords that build toward booming action. This is a soundscape that doesn’t so much follow the action as lead it. And all the while the heavy breathing of this should-be-dead man resounds, reminding viewers of the eternal themes of man vs. nature, man versus man and of course, man versus Academy Awards committee.
The Revenant is a frontrunner in many categories, and nominee Leonardo DiCaprio is (as usual) being punted to win for this virtually silent performance. I mean, he was wearing heavy as hell bearskins in frozen rivers and eating raw liver. Must he eat his own liver to finally take home that golden statuette?
Hopefully this cinematic adventure of gorgeous shots and truly insane action sequences will be the one for him. It could also make history if Iñárritu becomes the first director in 65 years to win an Academy Award two years in a row for this existential visual poem, sublime in both senses of the word: unparalleled and of great excellence. I was wowed by Birdman, Babel and 21 Grams and I have definitely been wowed once more.