The Revenant (2015) Does Leo Deserve an Oscar?

Leonardo DiCaprio has a film out around Oscar season, which means that every single person in the world is banging the “Leo deserves an Oscar drum”; and while I wholeheartedly agree, I do get irritated by those who started before The Revenant was even released.

Yeah, Leo’s great: but just because Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t have a film out this year, doesn’t mean that there isn’t another actor capable of putting in a better performance.

In reality we shouldn’t really care if he gets one, because DiCaprio’s strength has always been his ability to choose and deliver in interesting projects (other than Titanic.) Leo doesn’t do Oscar bait and he doesn’t do franchises. This more than anything makes him who he is. He is a film star worthy of the name: he is one of the few contemporary actors up there with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep etc. Along with the likes of Tom Hanks he is the closest thing we have to a stamp of quality.

But of course we don’t live in reality, so there will be outrage until Leo does bag one: it will be great when he wins and the internet will undoubtedly explode; but personally I would rather see him continue to produce films like Blood Diamond and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, than for him to be able to stick a little golden man on his mantel.

What I’m trying to say is, people love the Oscars, but perhaps it’s about time we stopped giving them so much credence…

That being said, both DiCaprio and The Revenant are remarkable. Both are fully deserving of all the praise they have received and both would be more than deserved winners come Oscar night. The film is stunning.

Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, use the landscape as a story telling device, sweeping across frozen plains and focusing on frosted leaves: you are left with a deep impression of sparkling beauty and raw peril. It is an immersive yet distant experience, allowing you to appreciate the vast scope and threat of the elements and the terrain. I can pay The Revenant no higher compliment than to say the way it was filmed reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The essence of the story is a very straight forward revenge plot, and this is why the use of the scenery is so crucial. The Revenant takes its time: it’s a slow burning candle in a frozen field. For those wanting high octane thrills and non stop action, this probably isn’t for you. But that isn’t to say The Revenant doesn’t have action. The violence contained within the film is unpleasant and realistic, though it is certainly not gratuitous: think along the lines of Saving Private Ryan rather than Django: Unchained. This is how men would have fought and died.

At the heart of this story is Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass, an expert tracker part of an expedition sent out to establish a lucrative fur-trapping base. When the expedition is attacked by tribesmen in a pulsating and gruelling onslaught, Glass leads the survivors’ retreat, before he is mauled by a bear. The leader of the expedition Andrew Harry (Domhnall Gleeson) is an honourable man, and someone who does not wish to simply abandon Glass. Eventually he promises two of the company, Jon Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) to care for Glass and give him a proper Christian burial, in return for double pay.

Hardy puts in the kind of performance we are used to seeing from one of Britain’s finest working actors (although I am still not sure about the Oscar nod.) He plays Fitzgerald with a wide-eyed callousness: he is ruthless, and believes it would be more merciful to simply shoot Glass in the head and be done with it; raising the age old question of how much is a single life worth?

The result is Fitzgerald and Bridger leaving Glass for dead, and not counting upon his extraordinary will to survive.

Due to the nature of the film DiCaprio has minimal dialogue. Instead we witness every single painstaking moment of his journey. Every grasp of soil, every staggered step: his muted screams and his hallucinations. It is one of his finest performances. The only minor gripe I had with Glass was the repeated sequences of his wife and the metaphor of a tree standing tall in the storm: it reminded me of Gladiator (though not in a good way) and stood out due to its lack of subtlety.

Other than this The Revenant is totally in the control of two masters, in Iñárritu and DiCaprio. The fluidity of the film is remarkable: I did not feel like I had been watching a two and a half hour film, and I’ve certainly seen shorter films that felt considerably longer. While Birdman was reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rope, The Revenant is reminiscent of the great director in its masterful handling of tension. It is a thread of beauty and suspense that few others could have weaved, and DiCaprio carries this out with aplomb.

I haven’t seen The Big Short but it’s difficult to imagine a film about the 2008 financial crisis being as impressive or engaging; while Spotlight fails to make the most of its harrowing narrative and falls flat as a film.

Regardless of awards I believe The Revenant will stand the test of time for being a truly impressive piece of filmmaking. We need the likes of Iñárritu to continue making films such as The Revenant, 21 Grams, and Birdman; and we need DiCaprio to keep making Gangs of New York, Django, and Catch Me If You Can. They are artists worthy of the greats before them.

There are of course different films for different moods, but The Revenant is an important reminder that people like quality and originality: that art should be left to the hands of the artists and not the heads of studios whose only concern is making profit. I could be wrong, but I cannot imagine either DiCaprio or Iñárritu being involved in a safe and predictable reboot, or whatever Superhero movie is up next for the ten millionth time.

For these reasons and many more The Revenant is an important film and one which people should go and see. That, and because it will finally give Leo his Oscar, or at least it bloody better.

One thought on “The Revenant (2015) Does Leo Deserve an Oscar?

  1. Pingback: The Oscars 2016: A Lay O Lay O Lay O Lay, Leo, Leo | Kieran Lyne

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