BY ROGER THOMAS
If one looks up the definition of “revenant,” they will most likely encounter a meaning such as “one that returns after death or a long absence.”
This is a fitting word for the main character in the new film by last year’s Oscar-winning director, Alejandro Inarritu, in “The Revenant.” Hugh Glass, the title character, is severely injured, buried and left for dead before he fights back against death and begins a journey of vengeance.
“The Revenant” has many elements worthy of praise. First, there is the lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. I have been rooting for DiCaprio to win an Oscar since 1993 when he gave an amazing performance in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” DiCaprio lost that chance for Oscar gold to Tommy Lee Jones for “The Fugitive.”
It is hard to believe DiCaprio has been doing great work for more than 20 years. Besides “Grape” he has scored three other Oscar nominations for lead actor in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Blood Diamond” and “The Aviator.” He has been the lead actor in two Best Pictures: “Titanic” and “The Departed.” Yet he has never won. This could be the year.
There are other fine performances as well. It almost seems Tom Hardy is in every other film released this year. Here he plays a heartless villain. There is also good work from Will Poulter, who seems to have gracefully moved from child actor to adult roles. In spite of the fact that much of the film focuses on one character struggling alone, the film is populated by a great many supporting players, and it is cast very well.
Another strength of “Revenant” is the visual effects. There are some amazing scenes of battle. I was never sure if the arrows flying were CGI-created or not. But whenever an assault occurs, the action is spectacular.
However, the most impressive moments in the entire film are when a mother bear protects her cubs. Few moments at the cinema this year are as impressive as that bear scene in “Revenant.”
There is also amazing cinematography in the film. Wide shots of landscapes and intimate shots of characters or wild life, this is a good-looking film.
However, the beauty of the film is also a huge component in the film’s downfall. The camera lingers too long on some of those shots of nature. At 156 minutes, there is enough material that could have been trimmed to get the film less than two hours. I am not opposed to a long film when it is continually captivating. “The Revenant” is not always moving forward and in the moments that slow the pace, the film stumbles.
Ultimately, this is a story of violence, revenge and blood. No matter what the outcome, the viewer is invested in seeing how things will fall out. In the case of “The Revenant,” the wait seems a little too long.
In the end, “The Revenant” is one of the better-produced films of the year, but it is not one of my favorites. One will not find it on my annual Top Ten List (which comes out next week), but it has its strengths.
If you wait until the film comes out on video, that may be a better way to watch, since the film has the many lulls that slow the plot. On the other hand, seeing the wide-open landscapes and long-distance shots on the “big screen” does make a difference.
Either way, you will get a good story, a great performance from DiCaprio and some bloody but well-produced battle scenes. You will also possibly find yourself getting fatigued at the pace of the film. Just remember, the film is at its best when the bear is on the screen.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.