The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2016)

What's it about? Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a frontier scout guiding a group of fur trappers (Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter et al) through the dangerous, wintry wilderness of Montana in 1823. After he is attacked and horribly mauled by a bear he is left for dead, but he survives and embarks on a desperate journey for revenge upon those who wronged him. 

Is it any good? Much has been made of DiCaprio's performance here and he will indeed walk off with Best Actor at this year's Oscars for a fully committed performance under arduous filming conditions (more of that below). But the really impressive performance here comes from the man behind the camera, as Iñárritu creates a film so immersive, you can almost feel the cold and wet. Shooting for just a few hours a day in natural light, he and DP Emmanuel Lubezki have captured some stunning visuals here, not least the magnificent scenery (photographed on location in Canada and Argentina). And that's before we even consider the camerawork involved, which exceeds even the tricksy efforts of his previous film Birdman. The template is immediately established in a ferocious opening battle between the trappers and marauding American natives which features a bravura 'pass-the-camera' sequence in which we track various characters on foot and horseback through the woods until they are all brutally killed. Then there's the terrifyingly real-looking bear attack, followed by sequences in which we are plunged into raging, icy torrents and a bit which will have you gripping the armrests as we gallop off a cliff with Glass on the back of a horse. In quieter moments, the camera invades the personal space of the actors so much their breath fogs the lens, but rather than remind us we are watching a film, this has the effect of placing us right there with them. As it does when their blood splatters the screen on occasion as well. The overall effect is intense, breath-taking film-making.

Beyond the technical artistry on display, however, what is it all about? Here, the film is rather less assured and indeed some have eloquently argued that this is little more than gratuitous 'pain porn', a sort of arthouse version of Survivor or Winter Wipeout. Perhaps, as DiCaprio has been at pains to explain, it highlights how ruthlessly and violently the white man imposed his rule upon the Native American people and territory. Maybe it's a religious allegory, although in truth the spiritual reveries experienced by Glass on his odyssey are the clumsiest and weakest parts of the film. Or perhaps it is so we can rate the intelligibility of Tom Hardy's mumbled dialogue on a scale of 1 to Bane. Or maybe we're not supposed to read anything into it, except that it is an amazing real tale of survival, made as real as possible. Whatever your take on it, the visual artistry means you should catch on the big screen, an experience which, like Glass, could leave you shattered. Because shattered glass, see? I thought that up myself, you know. 

I don't trust you. What do others think? Leads the charge at this year's Oscars with 12 nominations and has been praised as a singular, original masterpiece from a visionary director. But just how original is this Revenant anyway? Not at all, it would appear. Iñárritu seems to have simply copied and pasted the imagery from the chilly films of revered Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. The cheeky scamp! Don't believe me? Then check out the rather nifty side-by-side video comparison below.  I bet Tarkovsky has crawled out of his grave and is tracking down Iñárritu as we speak.  

Watch this video for your Film Theory 101 homework.
There'll be a test on Friday.

Anything else I should know? So DiCaprio is the toast of Hollywood for going through 'Hell' to make this film, having to endure sub-zero temperatures, plunge down waterfalls, wrestle a bear, lug around a real bearskin, eat raw fish and bison liver, climb inside a disembowelled horse, sit still for hours of make-up, grow a beard, cut out his own heart and, worst of all, have yellow teeth. A funny article here explains what was real and what wasn't, whilst this article reveals, astonishingly, that many of the events depicted did indeed befall the real Hugh Glass, who was a fur trapper and presumably some sort of indestructible Terminator as well. Which reminds me, I stubbed my toe earlier on the foot of the bed. Still hurts a bit.

What does the Fonz think? High Plains Snowdrifter

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