The Revenant review

Beautiful, brutal, but only surprising if you avoided the trailer

The Revenant is an unrelentingly beautiful film. Which is good, because it’s also unrelentingly deliberate in its pacing. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) takes us through this brutal, partly-true story of survival almost as an active participant. You can’t complete the journey without a little suffering of your own, as you’re subjected to every moment of agony the main character is subjected to.

The Revenant is based on the story of Hugh Glass, a hunter and trapper who gets mauled by a bear during an expedition in 1820s North America. It’s a story that was passed down through folklore, embellished and glorified over time, and this film only adds to the mystique of the tale, providing Glass with greater motivation to survive through his half-Native American/half-white son.

I’d say more, but if you haven’t seen the trailer for The Revenant, you’re better off not knowing further plot points. One of the struggles I had, especially in the first third of the film, was that the trailer more or less spoiled every single plot detail. At no fault of anything but its own marketing, much of The Revenant’s big dramatic moments and surprises were deflated for me, because I knew they would happen.

The Revenant screenshot

That makes this a really tough review to write, because I know that this film’s most dramatic scenes were expertly crafted, gut-wrenching, and brutal. But for me personally, they lacked so much of that impact because I was simply waiting for what I already knew over the course of an exhausting 2 hours and 36 minutes. There’s a lot of truth to the journey being more important than the destination, but when you already know the gist of both it’s hard to be surprised.

What did still manage to surprise for me was the sheer power of the cinematography, directing, and performances in The Revenant. Iñárritu chose to shoot the entirety of the film in natural light and in frigid, remote locations that give the film an undeniable authenticity. I haven’t seen many films that looked this beautiful or transported me to their settings so completely. If you ever find yourself just wandering around in the wilderness, either in real life or in games like Fallout 4 or Skyrim, I’d say The Revenant captures a similarly instinctual pleasure.

The Revenant screenshot

At the same time, the cast, particularly Leonardo DiCaprio, take us on a grueling journey that can be hard to stomach at times. What Hugh Glass goes through to survive and find redemption borders on unbelievable, yet the film almost always walks the line of feeling like a larger-than-life true story rather than a Hollywood embellishment. Aside from a couple unfortunate moments CG animals, The Revenant feels nothing but authentic.

This is a long, deliberately-paced film that challenges the audience to come along on the journey. I don’t think it dragged or lingered on scenes without purpose, but I still felt myself thinking, “get on with it,” at times. I don’t think this is The Revenant’s fault, but rather an advertising campaign that undoubtably piqued my interest in the film. Unfortunately it was at the expense of the actual experience. There’s still so much craft in The Revenant that those who have been spoiled can still enjoy it, but I envy anyone who can go into it completely blind.

The Revenant is undoubtedly a piece of art. The cinematography and performances are all A+. However, your enjoyment will depend on how much the trailer spoiled this deliberately-paced film.