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Review: The Revenant

Ros Hull

A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820’s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. IMDB

 Sitting through this film was such a visceral experience that when we emerged I expected the world to be somehow changed. Reality took a few moments to sink back in.

It is not easy viewing but almost every moment is so beautifully, finely tuned that I felt like I became two people while watching it – one completely caught up in the pain and determination of the central character, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) whilst the other kept cheering for this great moment in cinema.

Students will study the filmmaking of Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Whether now or as an entire oeuvre in years to come, they will study him. His Birdman was the most original film of 2015 – it was vicious, irreverent, funny and disturbing. Watching it was like running a race. The Revenant is like a marathon. The intensity does not let up for one moment in 156 minutes.

Where Birdman deliberately jarred the viewer, this film stretches out the nerves, tugging us along on a single cello note before exploding into such confronting, fierce action that we gasp aloud.

Every element of the film contributes to the cinematic total. The fascinating Ryûichi Sakamoto – renowned Japanese composer, musician and sometime actor – wrote those cello notes, and the whole eerie, ethereal soundtrack. In my mind he is forever Captain Yonoi opposite David Bowie in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. What a sad loss this week.

The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is astounding – again, so engrossing I could not believe there was no snow and ice outside when I left the cinema. The actors commit to their characters and the world of the film completely. Not just Leo (the man most ignored by the Oscars™) but all his supports, particularly Will Poulter and Domnall Gleeson. Tom Hardy’s character was the one weak link for me – he felt a bit too much like a cardboard cutout of a ‘baddie’ until their final battle.

Again though, it is a whole that is far greater than its parts. This is not a ‘Leo’ star vehicle – it is cinema that is at once completely new and yet classically Hollywood. Depicting the agonies of a lone man on a determined quest, it takes us into his world completely.

The attack by the bear is horrifyingly personal as are the moments where Glass struggles for breath, breath we can see fogging the lens of the camera. The images from Glass’ mind and memory are haunting, perhaps because they are archetypal and we recognise them from images in art or our own dreams?

A very good film – not a comfortable one – but a film not to miss. The last few seconds will stay with me for a long time.

Ros Hull

Ros saw Star Wars and immediately wanted to fly the Millenium Falcon. Unable to do that she became a Jill-of-all-trades as her army husband whirled her around the world – and back to Canberra 10 years ago. She has worked in public programs and museum education ever since. She gained an MA in writing whilst getting two daughters through high school - both are now at university and undeniably fabulous (according to her). She can worry as an Olympic sport so she sees lots of movies instead. More about the Author

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