A story of survival and perseverance, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's The Revenant is set in the early days of the uncharted American wilderness, where explorer/guide Hugh Glass finds himself brutally attacked by a bear, leaving him near death. Left for dead by members of his own hunting team, Hugh Glass sets out on a long, arduous journey of vengeance against John Fitzgerald, the man who killed Glass' only son and left him for dead. At its best, The Revenant is an intense, visceral experience, with the film's greatest aspect being the immersive experience it's able to create, featuring some stunning action set-pieces which use skilled cinematography and sound design to transport the viewer into the dark, gritty experience where the difference between life and death can change in the span of mere seconds. The Revenant is an intense story of survival and while the film's visceral nature cannot be denied, Inarritu continues to overuse his extravagant cinematography. The Revenant is a film about one man's struggle to survive in the cold, harsh conditions of the world around him, and while the film could have really benefited from capturing the quiet, stillness of death and these harsh conditions, Inarritu insists on keeping the camera constantly in motion, often doing so in scenes where it feels completely unmotivated and often even distracting to the overall experience. The Revenant is a very simple story of survival and revenge but perhaps the film's most interesting aspect is the aura of death and despair which envelopes the film. Early on I was concerned that Tom Hardy's antagonist character, John Fitzgerald, was going to be far too one-dimensional, but the film surprised me in this regard, with him becoming the most interesting character in the entire film as the film progresses. This character seems to be at odds with the filmmaker's intentions at times, being a man who is no doubt selfishly out for himself, but in the harsh world where survival is everything, it's hard to view this character as pure evil. The filmmakers seem to want to paint Fitzgerald as a monster, yet they repeatedly capture the dog-eat-dog nature of this world which he inhabits, displaying how almost everyone in the film is simply doing what they view necessary to survive. Fitzgerald's actions in the film, though heinous, are rooted in survival himself, making it hard for me to view this character as some monstrous protagonist that must be slain by our protagonist. That being said, there are characters throughout the film that show mercy and empathy for those around them in such arduous conditions, as if the filmmakers are trying to suggest that a sense of humanity and selflessness can still be found in even the most cutthroat conditions. These few characters, including our main protagonist, rival the dog-eat-dog mentality which Hardy's character inhabits, offering up a counterpoint to our antagonists actions. The film's take on revenge feels half-baked and under-developed, as does the mysticism and spirituality which Inarritu tries to inject into the film, as I wish The Revenant had simply been happy reveling in the simplicity of its narrative. That being said, at over 2 hours and 30 minutes long, The Revenant's simple narrative isn't sustainable over this long of a duration, and the film can become a slog, which I suppose one could argue is intentional, as the film tries to transport the viewer into the mindset of its lead protagonists arduous, to say the least, journey. Without question a beautifully composed and crafted piece of filmmaking, The Revenant routinely tries to do too much, with many of its larger ambitions related to the spirituality and moral repercussions of its main protagonist feeling ham-fisted and half-baked.
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