“[The Revenant is] Peckinpah by way of Terrence Mallick”

by Rob Rector

The adjective “poetic” may be one that is tossed about rather copiously in modern reviewing, but seldom does it seem more fitting for a film than it does with “The Revenant.” It’s narratively lean and efficient, occupies much white space, and can be deceptively simple with profound meaning upon further contemplation.

In yet another visual marvel from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who crafted last year’s innovative “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” he once again seems to work without a net, stitching together a film that is as visually breathtaking as it is editorially daring.

Based on a 2002 novel by Michael Punke, the film gives us a practically over-the-shoulder view of 19th century explorer and fur trapper Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). After his hunting party is attacked by Native Americans, Glass is cornered by a mama grizzly, which almost kills him.

His resulting injuries prove to be a burden to his team, who leave him for dead (and kill his half-Native American son). But Glass is clinging to life and scrapes together every iota of his will and determination to trek hundreds of miles to track down the men who abandoned him and slaughtered his boy.

The Revenant
Directed by
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Domhnall Gleeson
Release Date
8 January 2016
Rob’s Grade: A

At first glance, it may seem like a sparse and barren survival epic where man must battle the harsh realities of nature (and its clawed creatures) to avenge his son’s death and mete justice on those who left him for dead. But it’s by no means bare bones with bear bones.

Filled with how-the-hell-did-he-film-that scenes, a naturally lit landscape that is equally beautiful as it is stark, and anchored by yet another bravura turn by its lead, “The Revenant” is raw and unflinching and another bold step forward for a filmmaker who enjoys pushing boundaries in unconventional ways.

“The Revenant“ is a hybrid western-drama–survivalist-existential film. It’s Peckinpah by way of Terrence Mallick. Like all good poetry, it’s open enough for personal interpretation as well. It can represent a mediation of life, god, humanity, will, family or perhaps countless other readings you as a viewer may wish to bring to the table.

Savage beauty abounds, in both performance in backdrop. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki does not waste a cell of film, and gives us a world that is unforgiving as it is majestic. And DiCaprio, who has long been neglected by Oscar for his commitment to characters on film, yields yet another outstanding performance that requires feats both physical and emotional that astound once again.

The film’s score is equally stark and urgent, with Ryuichi Sakamoto,Alva Noto, and The National’s Bryce Dessner creating a unique mix of tribal beats and ambient drones.

The result is lyrical, sparse, heavy and metaphorical, which is the very definition of a poem.