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With The Revenant DiCaprio rises again and aims for the Oscar A harsh but mesmerizing film experience, which takes the viewer back to a primeval era of the USA.
No less than 12 Academy Award nominations, including best director: for Inarritu the second time running
by Giovanni De Benedictis


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The Revenant, with Leonardo DiCaprio

North America, 1823. The hunter-explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) saves a handful of fur trappers that he works for from the attack of the Arikara tribe. The only relatively safe way to get back to the base camp is by going overland. Out in front of the group, searching for the best route, Glass happens upon a female grizzly bear with cubs: attacked from behind, he is grievously injured, with no chance of surviving. The expedition team cannot wait. The captain orders two men to stay with him for the little time remaining and to give him a dignified burial. Unfortunately one of them is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a violent, racist ex-soldier, whose only interest is to pocket the fee promised for this extra work. Obviously Glass will be left for dead.

This story of death, rebirth, survival and revenge is based on Michael Punke’s novel by the same name and inspired by the trapper who actually existed, but who has become more a legendary figure than a historical one.

Written by the director and by Mark L. Smith, the screenplay forces the audience to lower their threshold of suspension of disbelief on a couple of occasions and indulges in seemingly poetic flashbacks which at best enrich the protagonist’s background and at worst slow down the rhythm. The allusions here are only seemingly to Malick: this is no song of praise to living nature in images (everything is as hostile as the human enemies). But with the breadth of the plot, the epic tone of the events is amplified by the skill of Alejadro G. Inarritu, who with the contribution of the exceptional cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (2 Oscars), moves the camera so as to scale down the human figure amidst the landscape or to get up so close (with obvious wide-angles) that it is ‘suffocated’ in the frame along with the viewer. This is all served up in mesmerizing long takes (the beginning is like something out of Saving Private Ryan in frontier version) or in scenes that almost seem to be real TV. The music by Sakamoto – anxiety-inducing, minimalist and evocative – does the rest. In the end it could almost be a noble relative of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or Apocalypto, but filmed as if it were Gravity “into the wild”: the imperative is to survive.

Shot mainly in Canada in prohibitive conditions (as cold as -40°), at a cost of 135 million dollars, with references to westerns old and new (including Man in the Wilderness with Richard Harris, based on the same story), The Revenant lives a life of its own thanks to the postmodern style of direction. The bear attack scene alone devours all the computer graphics seen in the cinema in 2015.

After being widely taunted for the Oscar he didn’t win for The Wolf Of Wall Street (in which he was over the top even compared to the story) Leonardo DiCaprio won the Golden Globe as best dramatic actor and is now eyeing the Oscar: a vegetarian, he even had to eat raw buffalo liver. At times Tom Hardy steals a scene, although the monotonous evil of his character is occasionally irritating. Domnhall Gleeson has added another important title to his already respectable filmography.

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