THE REVENANT — A Beautiful But Hollow Endeavor [Blu-review]

by Jon Partridge

If you haven’t seen The Revenant, you are aware of how difficult it was to make, both for cast and crew. Interviews and award ceremonies have been replete with mentions of how star Leonardo Di Caprio suffered plunges into frozen rivers, eating raw bison and even bear rape. It’s a film that has generated wave upon wave of memes mocking the arduous nature of the shoot. But, stripping all this away, is the film actually any good? Now on home video, you have the chance to decide for yourself.

The Revenant

Inspired by true events, The Revenant follows the story of legendary explorer Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) on his quest for survival and justice. After a brutal bear attack, Glass is left for dead by a treacherous member of his hunting team (Tom Hardy Mad Max: Fury Road). Against extraordinary odds, and enduring unimaginable grief, Glass battles a relentless winter in uncharted terrain.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Revenant is stunning. Iñárritu, together with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, has crafted a film that is just gorgeous. You can pause the film at nearly any point and find yourself looking at a shot that any filmmaker would kill to have within their feature. Beneath this veneer however lies a film that fails to contain a narrative, pace, nor immersive qualities to match its visuals. Hollow is the word that springs to mind, meaning those immaculate shots don’t really add up to much.

The plot suggests a survival movie, a film genre packed with examples of stunning imagery married to visceral narratives and performances. The Grey, Walkabout, Man in the Wilderness or Touching the Void being good examples, taut affairs that invest you in characters and their plight. The Revenant takes this stripped down idea and piles on more misery that is necessary. Hugh Glass is not just injured in a bear attack, he is also betrayed by a teammate who is also responsible for murdering his son. Throw in some racial prejudice against aforementioned son and a deceased wife and you craft a ball of woe and anger so potent Di Caprio grinds his teeth and spits his way across mountains and through streams towards his eventual Oscar. It’s as if survival wasn’t enough to drive a man onward, Iñárritu felt compelled to adapt the original tale to include all these other elements which, when the hardship Glass endures during his journey is added on top, leaves things a little farcical. You know the movie has lost its way a little when they go “full Tauntaun”. A runtime of close to 3 hours doesn’t help matters at all.

Di Caprio, who won an Oscar for his part, is fine. There simply isn’t much here to tax his talents beyond grinding his teeth or looking pained. Tom Hardy chews up the scenery as well as the dialogue as Fitzgerald. A quirky villian but one that works, somehow feeling apt for the time. a damaged, mumbling individual who mixes a bit of racism with an awful lot of self serving actions. Will Poulter’s Bridger is something of a companion to Fitzgerald, a witness to his actions. Their dynamic is one of the more interesting facets of the film and it’s a shame it isn’t explored more, there is more to mine there than the journey of Glass. Poulter’s performance is a nuanced one, truly tied to the horrors in the film,

As mentioned earlier, this is a tale of survival or revenge, muddied by other intentions. It’s as if a simple, emotionally charged narrative was insufficient for the writers. More and more motivations are slathered on, reflective moments added throughout including visions and a weaving in of Native American beliefs. Their inclusion comes across as heavy handed and cumulates towards the end where Glass completely changes tack and has an epiphany. One in keeping with the clunky spiritual additions to the film but one that clashes with the human element, meaning the film doesn’t get the cathartic moment it needs. These two aspects of the film never truly mesh.

There are impressive moments, from quieter reflective moments to the more action driven portions, notably the opening Indian attack and a later sequence where Glass ambushes some French trappers. There is a magnificent realization of the grit and savagery of this place and time. Costume and set design are impeccable. There’s a lot to appreciate, but ultimately a lot to pick apart largely because with a more engaging emotional component, the film would be a far more moving and immersive experience.

THE PACKAGEI’ve already praised the visuals of the film and the Blu-ray showcases them beautifully. Natural sweeping vistas, sunbeam lit forests, snowcovered mountain tops or blood stained bodies are show in crisp, textured detail, great contrast and vibrant colors. Iñárritu apparently used little to no artificial lighting which makes some of the scenes shown off here all the more impressive. The flm takes on a blue or yellow tint depending on time of day. Its a stunning film rendered beautifully in this presentation

Special features are limited however the main inclusion is the making of documentary A World Unseen. At a nearly 45 minute runtime, it’s an exceptionally detailed look at the making of the film including behind the scenes footage, chronicling the work and problems on set, insights into the technical approach as well as interviews with cast and crew. There’s also a Gallery for perusal. Personally not something I find of interest but if there’s one film to lose yourself in the imagery of, it’s this one. A commentary would have been most welcome and considering how frequently both director and cast have spoken of difficulties in shooting the film, its absence is surprising. The release also includes a UV digital copy.

THE BOTTOM LINEThe Revenant is a hollow affair that fails to make a emotional connection, feeling strangely inert as a result. Despite this, it’s very much worth a watch. The story is sure to strike a chord with some more than others but my reason is that the films is a true showcase of cinematography and direction. It’s a stunning film to watch and there is much to admire here. It’s just a shame the approach to the story does not match the filmmaking skills on display.

The Revenant is available on 4K Ultra HD™ Disc, Blu-ray™ and DVD April 19th.

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 The Revenant [4K UHD Blu-ray] | [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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