By Thomas Simpson
With 12 Oscar nods, The Revenant is the most nominated film at this year’s Academy Awards, including a best actor nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio. When it comes to the Oscars however, DiCaprio has been somewhat of a bridesmaid. With 2016 marking Leo’s sixth nomination (fourth for best actor, he was nominated for best supporting actor in 1993 and best picture as producer in 2014) the buzz around tinsel town is that the 41-year-old will finally be able to dust off his winner’s speech.
For many a win is long overdue, and there are few that would grudge DiCaprio for his outstanding performance in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s brutal western. In 1823 a group of hunters find themselves on the run from the Native Americans. When one of their experienced hunters, Hugh Glass, (DiCaprio) is ravaged by a grizzly bear, his injuries begin to slow the others down. One of the party, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), has taken a dislike to Glass, mostly on account of his half-Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). At the first opportunity, Fitzgerald attempts to “mercy kill” Glass which results in Hawk being slain. Glass is then left for dead in a shallow grave but unbeknownst to Fitzgerald his enemy has survived and is consumed by revenge.
Based on Michael Punke’s novel, which is inspired by true events, The Revenant is beautifully savage in its execution. The story is straightforward with Iñárritu’s gaze lingering on Glass’s suffering. We endure his pain as his spirit is methodically broken until there’s nothing left of his soul. Glass is barely human by the end, ravaged by the frontier and driven by vengeance. While The Revenant doesn’t drag, the pacing is meticulous and doesn’t disappoint in its thrilling finale.
With little dialogue, DiCaprio conveys Glass’s anguish through his actions. His eyes tell the story of a broken man and his resurrection as an instrument of retribution. Whether he’s fighting a CGI bear or a very real Tom Hardy, DiCaprio never wavers in his performance. His emotional range is limited by the plot but his desire bleeds onto the screen.
Up for best supporting actor is Hardy, who is the despicable Fitzgerald. He’s a loathsome and selfish creature that makes a great villain. Domhnall Gleeson is also excellent as the hunting party’s leader Captain Andrew Henry. He is an actor that is going from strength to strength with each role, he may seldom be in the lead but his talent ensures he is always noticed.
Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has won the award the previous two years and is a strong bet to get three in a row. The film looks stunning and although the subject matter is bleak the gorgeous visuals contrast wonderfully with the enduring barbarity.
The Revenant is an unflinching peek at a ruthless world that has often been romanticized on celluloid. Iñárritu strips the film of a traditional Western look, yet this is a simple revenge drama in narrative, albeit a visually exquisite one.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.