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The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy: “My” review of an early screening

My husband and son saw a screening of The Revenant at the DGA yesterday and said theyd never seen anything like it. Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu put them in a cold dark place where they both felt completely immersed in the brutally frigid world of the film, a world it took 11 months, with just two hours of available shooting light each day, to create. Cinematography from Oscar-winning Emmanuel Lubezki was a key component.

The strenuous schedule, the difficult climate and conditions, reportedly took its toil on the cast and crew, a rumored mutiny on the set may even have come to blows between the director and one of its stars. 

All the production difficulties fade in the light of the creation however. After the screening, which received a standing ovation from the Guild audience, acclaimed director Michael Mann interviewed Iñárritu, making the point that nature was a key character in the movie, the frontier testing the men, questioning their makeup and what they believed in.

My son, who said all the Oscar buzz seemed apt and that the film will likely be nominated in all the categories from Best Picture, Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Supporting for Tom Hardy, directing, cinematography, editing etc etc, was struck by the characters’ stubborn insistence on sticking with hard tasks.  He questioned his own response, the temptation to set the task aside, curl up into a ball and hope for better weather tomorrow. He said you feel everything, you feel the cold, deep in your bones, the misery of having to live in these conditions. 

Iñárritu told the audience everyone was miserable. There was no fun. They were shooting in the wilds of Canada. They weren’t in New York. There was nothing to do. They were all just cold and lonely. Miserable.

My husband, who woke up this morning talking like Tom Hardy’s vicious frontiersman, said Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass isn’t your typical DiCaprio role. A small guy, an average guy, with a huge spirit, he was indomitable. Not a tough guy, a guy made tough by his need for revenge. As for Hardy’s John Fitzgerald, he’s the type of man who sees the entire world as a foil, as if everyone else is just deliberately trying to make his life harder. He didn’t stop complaining from the start of the film through to the finish. If you’re like my hubby, you’ll be mumbling tough like him for days. According to our son, Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry was reportedly fantastic as the young patrician commander too. 

While the cinematography by Lubezki was absolutely instrumental to the movie’s visceral look and feel, Iñárritu used 5 different composers to create the score. In the post-screening discussion he said he wanted the music to come in like a soft breeze, almost unnoticeable. As for the musical mix, he called it ‘a spicy guacamole of sound.’ 

The story, of a man left for dead after a bear attack, also featured an ‘Indian’ attack; Iñárritu got this right too. While Hollywood has often shown Native Americans (and yes, indigenous people played all the parts of indigenous people) with a binary dichotomy, either as demonic monsters representing dangerous forces or pure angelic spirits that the white man ruins, the reality is much more complex. As real people, not other, they are in fact like us, not good, not bad, but a realistic mix.

The Revenant, based on the book by Michael Punke—but with which the director took liberties—comes out on January 8 after a short Oscar qualifying run in December. I canwait to see it for myself.

In the meantime, I’ve got the trailer...

UPDATE: 11/25/2015
I told my husband there have been reports of a few people walking out of early screenings citing too much gore. He rolled his eyes. It’s realistic, he told me, but not overdone. Would they walk out of a Quentin Tarantino movie? 
My son said it’s a western you’ve never seen before, that the violence is incredibly visceral. He said it’s disturbing and he can see how it might be too much for some audiences. Look, The Revenant is not a love story. All movies are not made for all audiences. And that’s okay.