Leonardo DiCaprio gives "a virtuoso performance" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) in Oscar Winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s ('Birdman') cinematic masterpiece. Inspired by true events, 'The Revenant' follows the story of legendary explorer Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) on his quest for survival and justice. After a brutal bear attack, Glass is left for dead by a treacherous member of his hunting team (Tom Hardy; 'Mad Max: Fury Road'). Against extraordinary odds, and enduring unimaginable grief, Glass battles a relentless winter in uncharted terrain. This "boldly original" (Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch) epic adventure captures the extraordinary power of the human spirit in an immersive and visceral experience "unlike anything you have ever seen" (Jake Hamilton, FOX-TV).
Director Alejandro Iñárritu employs the same fluid camerawork that made 2014's 'Birdman' such a technical success. His camera floats in and out of a scene like a specter. An invisible observer. It's this technique and his sense of what creates interesting cinema that gives 'The Revenant' its visual heft, visuals which are grand, sweeping, and inspiring. It's stark, and beautiful, and brutal.
'The Revenant,' which is based in part on Michael Punke's novel of the same name, tells the story of a group of mountain men trappers who become stranded in frigid, snow-covered mountains after suffering an attack by a war party of Cree Indians.
The party's navigator, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) has brought his son along with him, who happens to be half white man, half native. It's a situation that rankles others in the party, most notably John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).
The story lacks a conventional structure as it seamlessly passes from one scene to the next, dreamlike. Glass is attacked by a bear. Viciously attacked. It's a violently visceral experience. One of those moments in cinema that will leave you wondering, “How exactly did they do that?” The technical prowess exhibited in filming something like that is astounding. It's a scene that will stick with you, for better or worse.
Glass is eventually left for dead by his party. Something that fuels his survival and would-be revenge. While it's billed as a revenge flick, it's more a story of man versus nature. If it were possible for a movie to give you hypothermia this one would. It's impossible not to feel cold just watching it.
This is some of DiCaprio's best work, as he embodies the tortured character of Hugh Glass and exposes the personal demons that are slowly revealed throughout the movie. He's lost in his role. It's a transformation that is all about grit, and ice, and blood. The touching relationship between Glass and his son is infinitely moving. It's the heart of the film. The engine, so to speak. And the harmony between DiCarpio and Forrest Goodluck is palpable.
DiCaprio critics said he "just had to survive" this role. Perhaps the marketing of DiCaprio's performance soured people on it. I don't know. What I do know is that this performance isn't all about surviving. His interactions with his son are affirming and heartbreaking. Yes there's a lot of grunting, crawling around in the muck, and eating raw liver. Yet, in spite of all that there are many genuinely touching moments involved in DiCaprio's performance.
Iñárritu's 'Birdman' felt like it was showing off and too cool for the rest of us plebes. 'The Revenant' has no such pride. Its technical beauty doesn't overshadow its story, rather it adds depth to it. The way he frames actor's faces in order to accentuate microscopic expressions, or the way he takes in the natural wonder of the wilderness he's filming, making it look like some otherworldly forest. Like some alien world that city dwellers couldn't even imagine existing. His eye is keen, and his ability to capture beauty – even in brutality – is this film's defining characteristic. Add in famed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's magical abilities, and the result is an absolutely stunning film experience.
Here's a movie that will cling to you. A movie that will seethe in your brain long after you see it. A movie that takes simple humanistic motivations and magnifies them. A movie that treats its characters with respect, having the patience to see the story through without rushing anything. A movie that wholly respects its setting, giving ample room for the stunning but frozen locale to engulf anyone who watches it. A movie, which in short, is one of the very best of last year.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a single-disc release from 20th Century Fox. The 50GB Blu-ray is packaged in a standard keepcase that also comes with a code for a digital copy. The slipcover provided is a little more than just the standard stuff. It's got a foldout that's held together with a Velcro patch, that folds out to show some artwork and gushing critic quotes.
The 1080p presentation of 'The Revenant' is quite a thing to behold. When I first saw it in the theater I was amazed. Watching it at home I felt the same kind of awe. Iñárritu's camerawork paired with Lubezki's impossibly beautiful imagery, conjure up one of the best looking Blu-rays out there.
What's startling about this presentation right out of the gate is the exactness of contrast. This movie features bright whites (endless fields of fluffy snow) and pitch blacks (nighttime in the wilderness is much darker than nighttime anywhere else). These great fluctuations in contrast are handled expertly here. Snow appears natural and white areas never appear too hot. Even though snow covers much of the surroundings in many of the scenes, it never blends together into one giant white blob. Instead it's easy to discern differentiating undulations in the snow. When the sun goes down the darkness is as inky and as black as it can get. There are a lot of fade transitions in this movie and not once did I notice any banding associated with them.
Crushing is never an issue here either. Shadows are strong, but not overbearing. Detail is immaculate. Iñárritu loves his close-ups, which provide endless amounts of detail. Grit and grime stuck in beards, drool seething at the corners of mouths, and bloodshot eyes just to name a few things that can easily be seen. There's one scene toward the end where Hugh Glass' chapped lips are sticking together. The skin looks like it will rip at any moment. It's so clear on screen it made me squeamish.
I could go on and on about the demo-worthy-ness of this video presentation, but I'll end it now (so I can go on, and on about its audio capabilities). Just know that this is a fine looking Blu-ray without any blemishes whatsoever. The transfer perfectly captures the amazing photography of the film.
I must start off by saying it's slightly disappointing that the Dolby Atmos track 'The Revenant' was released with in theaters did not make it to the disc. However, this is a very capable and extremely competent DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix. One of my favorites actually.
There's a small moment in this movie that really highlights the agility of its sound design. Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger have made it back to the fort and are ready to receive payment for their duties. Captain Henry gets up from his desk, but the camera stays on Fitzgerald and Bridger. Henry walks out of frame and up some stairs on the left side of the frame. The creaking boards of the cabin follow him to the side channel. He walks up the stairs that lead to behind the viewer, and the creaking and heavy footsteps seamlessly transfer to the left surround speaker. Then to the right as he opens the safe and retrieves the money. Then back to the left, left-side, and back down the stairs. It's a great scene that offers up the pinpoint accuracy of this movie's surround sound capabilities.
The same enveloping feeling can be heard when Iñárritu points the camera skyward, taking in the tops of swaying trees. The natural creaking and groaning of the forest instantly surrounds you. It's quite amazing.
This movie offers up countless pans where the camera is steadily moving as characters are talking. This means that as the camera moves character voices are flawlessly transfer from one channel to another depending on where they are in relation to where the frame is currently. So someone's voice can start in the front channel and gradually move all the way to a rear channel as the camera turns and floats somewhere else.
The low-end also offers many sonic delights. The score has some wonderful moments of deep, thrumming bass. The bear attack is accompanied by a wonderful array of low-end frequencies. Dialogue is always clear, even when whispered (and there's a lot of whispering). I didn't hear anything wrong with this audio mix. Its accuracy, fidelity, and pin-point directionality are demo-worthy.
A World Unseen: A Documentary of 'The Revenant' (HD, 44 min.) – This behind-the-scenes feature has some great heft to it. Sadly, it's the only special features of substance on the disc. Even so, it features great interviews from cast and crew. What it was like shooting on location, and the environmental message of the film.
Photo Gallery (HD) – There are a total of 69 behind-the-scenes stills contained in here. You can flip through them manually, or set it to automatically scan through them with a few seconds given for each picture.
'The Revenant' was one of my favorite films of last year. Iñárritu tends to rub some people the wrong way. He can be a bit of a blowhard. However, his acumen as a filmmaker is quite extraordinary. 'The Revenant' is a perfect platform for his talents. The video and audio portions of this disc are perfection in every sense of the word. Though the special features leave much to be desiredm, this one still comes highly recommended.