By Aaron Stiles
Last year at the 87th annual Academy Awards, the award for Best Picture went to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s imaginative comedy/drama Birdman. I was actually shocked by this, because typically I keep track of the films released every year and realized then that I had dropped the ball.
How could I not have known that Iñárritu released a film in 2014? I thought to myself.
I had been exposed to Iñárritu in 2009 during my junior year of high school when I watched Amores perros. Even at that point, Iñárritu had been making feature films for nearly 10 years before. The fast pace of the film and its realistic approach to drama told me he was a great filmmaker.
He later released 21 Grams and Babel, which are as captivating, showcasing Iñárritu’s ability to push the medium in terms of shooting and editing, to capture realistic moments in new and innovative ways. Birdman, which also won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Director, was masterfully shot and edited to give the effect that it was filmed in one take.
Now comes The Revenant, Inarritu’s sixth feature film and without a doubt his best. An epic Western starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy, The Revenant tells the story of American frontiersman Hugh Glass (Dicaprio), who worked as a fur trapper during the 1820s.
The film begins with Hugh on a fur-trapping expedition with his half-Native son and a trapper party. Tensions are high as the men confront ruthless weather and unforgiving Native Americans, who attack the trappers’ camp, slaughtering many men, only a small contingent—Glass among them—escaping.
As the survivors trek back to their fort, Fitzgerald (Hardy) harasses Hugh’s son. Years ago Fitzgerald was partially scalped by a Native, resulting in a hatred toward them. This dynamic becomes the film’s eventual driving force and in addition gives Hugh a sympathetic character. Without the tension between Fitzgerald and Hugh’s son, Hugh would simply be an antihero.
Hugh is later attacked by a bear and left for dead by the rest of the party. He manages to survive and recover and is then forced to make his way to the fort on his own.
The bear attack is one of the most elaborate and ambitious sequences in the film and will likely be discussed for many years to come. I don’t want to give too much away, but the realism of that scene was captured flawlessly. Witnessing Hugh’s arduous journey through freezing rivers and thick forests is an adrenaline-pumping adventure that is worth every minute.
The level of talent and expertise in the design of this film is phenomenal. Everything from the film’s costumes to CGI to makeup is masterfully crafted and it all feels completely authentic. One of the biggest achievements is the cinematography by Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who captured every scene in completely natural light all on location in British Columbia and Argentina.
This is not only a huge accomplishment for any film, but is a great accomplishment considering the harsh conditions. In an online interview, Dicaprio describes acting in the film was a lot like live theatre or television because the actors rehearsed tirelessly all day long, then waited until the right amount of light shined to begin filming.
This illustrates the meticulous consideration and care that Iñárritu takes to make his artistic vision a reality. The Revenant is Iñárritu’s most ambitious film to date and is an epic film on every scale and is as beautiful as it is entertaining.
I highly recommend seeing this film in the theater on the big screen to fully appreciate the scope of the film. With the Academy Awards approaching at the end of the month, I can say confidently that The Revenant is one of the best films of the year and deserves every nomination it has, and Iñárritu’s renown will only become bigger in years to come.
Take our survey to voice your opinion on if Leo will win the Oscar this year!