This Oscar season was a very contentious one. After the Academy of Arts and Sciences nominated all Caucasian nominees, many people, including famous celebrities like Will Smith, boycotted the Oscars entirely. In the midst of all of this turmoil, The Revenant stormed the awards season and came away with many wins and nominations. At the Oscars, Leonard DiCaprio, who by public opinion had been snubbed multiple times by the Academy in the past, finally received the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Revenant. The Revenant also received Best Director and Best Cinematographer, as well as many nominations. Some people have claimed the movie was a beautifully crafted and unique film. Others have criticized the movie as “Oscar bait” and have expressed their frustration with the movie as relying on one-dimensional characters and a predictable plot. Does the film stand up to the criticisms, or is it a film that truly panders to the tastes of The Academy?
In my opinion, this film is a truly breathtaking piece of cinematography. It was rightly awarded the Oscar for Cinematography. The wide variety of shots, the intense battle scenes, the wide pans of the brutal, astonishing Canadian wilderness; all of these aspects contribute to a truly gripping experience. Every injury DiCaprio’s character receives, every heartbreaking moment, every gruesome death, and every shot of the vast landscape is expertly filmed. There have been few movies I have seen that are true visual masterpieces. Alejandro Innaritu and his team stressed that they had endured the harsh and unforgiving wilderness of British Columbia to obtain these shots, and the efforts of their team speaks for itself. The minimalist music, and sheer absence of music in many scenes, is very well done.
Another strong point in this movie is DiCaprio’s character and acting. DiCaprio is believable, captivating, and visceral in his role as the relentless Hugh Glass. Tom Hardy, while his character is extremely one-dimensional, plays a truly intimidating and despicable villain as John Fitzgerald. The climax at the end of the film, where Glass confronts Fitzgerald, leaves the viewer with a feeling of great redemption and satisfaction. There are many scenes as well, especially the bear attack, the Indian and trapper battle at the beginning of the movie, as well as Hugh Glass traversing the landscape, that are entertaining and heart-pounding moments. The scene of Glass’s son’s death and subsequent mourning is heart-wrenching and portrayed well, as DiCaprio’s acting capabilities shine through that scene especially well. I also truly enjoyed the final scene, as it ends with a surreal tone and a certain ambiguity. The viewer isn’t entirely sure if Hugh Glass survives after the vicious confrontation with Fitzgerald.
However, the movie is far from perfect. At the Oscars, the award for Best Picture was given to the movie Spotlight, a change from the Golden Globes Awards, where The Revenant won Best Picture. However, this is probably a fair awarding. As much as I was captured and visually amazed by The Revenant, the plot is very predictable. As rewarding as the revenge story is, the concepts are very similar to many other movies. The ending and death of the characters is predictable, excluding perhaps the son’s death early in the movie. The characters are very flat, as the movie mostly relies on visuals. While Tom Hardy is intimidating, there is very little character development with his and the other characters. Some of this is probably due to the apparent lack of exposition in favor of scenes of action. There have been criticisms that the movie was released in a way to pander to the Oscars, and some of these criticisms appear valid. Another critique are that the movie relies on meaningless violence too often. While I agree partially with this sentiment, most revenge stories and redemption stories from as far back as “The Odyssey” and as recently as Kill Bill rely on occasionally meaningless and brutal violence. There are points where the story is merely DiCaprio traveling from A to B and fighting with different groups of people.
As sometimes simplistic and pandering as the film is, I came away enjoying the movie greatly. I especially appreciated the commitment to filming all of the aspects of the Canadian wilderness, and I believe the film’s greatest success is transporting the audience into this vast landscape through incredible filmmaking. As flat and one-dimensional as the characters and plot may be, the film is truly groundbreaking in visual effects and techniques. I additionally enjoyed the fact that indigenous people are portrayed fairly in this film, as well as by indigenous actors, at a time when the film industry is battling many problems with ethnic diversity in films. DiCaprio rightly recognized indigenous people, as well as the precarious balance between humans and nature that is being further disrupted by climate change, during his Oscar acceptance speech. This film is one I recommend for everyone to see at least once. Although it may be difficult to watch multiple times, I can truly say that this film succeeds in capturing the legendary conflict between man and untamable wilderness.
Grade: B+/ Four Stars