I saw “The Revenant” because my job required it. I didn’t want to go.
I avoid gore and zombies, and in this thriller/Western/bloodbath, Leonardo DiCaprio is the walking, limping, barely crawling dead.
And yet I loved it. So much so that in a year when I’d recommend any of the best picture nominees, this is the only one that clearly deserves the top prize.
Its closest competitors, “Spotlight” and “The Big Short,” are ripped-from-the-headlines timely and important. But those talking-head dramas feel small by comparison. They’re missing the wow factor.
“The Revenant,” on the other hand, is old-Hollywood epic, reminiscent of best picture winners that also won for cinematography. (“Revenant’s” Emmanuel Lubezki is a lock to win that latter category, for a third year in a row.) I’m thinking “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Last Emperor,” even DiCaprio’s “Titanic.” Sweeping. Ambitious. The power of the big screen, unleashed.
Alejandro G. Inarritu’s adventure is inspired by real-life 19th-century fur trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio). Mauled by a grizzly, Glass drags himself across snowy plains, over cliffs and down rapids to wreak vengeance on the betrayers who left him behind. (A revenant is someone who returns, as from the dead.)
This is revenge served cold, bitterly cold, and we feel it in the film’s crystalline beauty, from the bare trees towering against an endless gray sky to the play of light on snow-fed streams to the glittering icicles dangling from DiCaprio’s tangled beard. The frontier is at once a heavenly paradise and bloody hell, frozen over.
And no other scene from 2015 has been talked about as much as DiCaprio facing off like a rag doll against the CGI mama bear. (Confession: I closed my eyes during the gross scenes.)
But “The Revenant” is more than its looks, more than a standard revenge tale. The vast horizon echoes the wilderness of Hugh Glass’ soul, his loneliness and loss. “I ain’t afraid to die anymore,” Glass says. “I’ve done it already.”
His throat slashed by the grizzly, his words are reduced to grunts and ragged breathing for much of the film. Yet DiCaprio, through haunted, desperate eyes, eloquently portrays a man in full, his fanatical will to survive driving him on to see justice done.
After five acting nominations, DiCaprio will finally, justly, win his first Academy Award. Inarritu will win best director. And “The Revenant” will likely win best picture.
In a word, wow.
Sharon Hoffmann is The Star’s lifestyle and movies editor.