The Revenant (2015)
Alejandro González Iñárritu
With more than a few shots looking up through tree canopies, this film calls to mind Emmanuel Lubezki’s other work with Terrence Malick. While Lubezki has immense skill as a cinematographer, those signature skyward shots call so much attention to themselves that they pull the viewer out of the immersive experience of the film. Nevertheless, the cinematography does a remarkable job of transporting us to a wilderness of bleak beauty.
The other notable issue with this film is its cultural politics. While the Native American characters are certainly well researched, they are limited to background pieces that highlight the white protagonist’s struggle. As a result, the film fails to move beyond the same cultural stereotypes of countless previous westerns.
Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a fine enough performance. But it is not nearly as interesting as Tom Hardy’s captivatingly cruel villain. Where DiCaprio’s range is limited to expressing various degrees of pain and discomfort, Hardy’s performance contains a wealth of subtle humanizing mannerisms.
It’s hard to tell if the chronological filming schedule and natural lighting approach are gimmicks, or genius. Perhaps similar effects could have been achieved with the standard suite of techniques. It would certainly be cheaper. However, it is hard to deny how visceral this film feels. The actors’ growing exhaustion is palpable. The lighting and atmosphere are also spot on.
This is an engaging film, a powerful film, but also one that undermines its strengths with cultural cliché and risks distracting the viewer with artifice.