I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again after watching this film: give this man his Oscar. Did DiCaprio run over some Academy member’s dog or something? The man has been robbed time and time again at the Oscars and it’s about time that this man get his fair shake at the annual ceremony. In this film, DiCaprio is intense, hard-edged, but also determined and steadfast in his beliefs. He plays a man who is left for dead after a vicious bear attack and double-crossed by his fellow soldier (played with vicious aplomb by Tom Hardy) and then the film centers on his efforts to fight his way back to survival despite the harsh reality of the elements that surround him.
This is a beautiful film. Alejandro Inarritu creates a wondrous and vast atmosphere in 1820s America that is so gorgeous that it makes the violence and brutality even more effective as it acts as a sort of jolt in tone. The cinematography perfectly captures this and while it reminded me of Inarritu’s previous work, Birdman, in the sense that the camera’s movements are motivated by character movement, it also stands on its own two feet as well in its individuality. Emmanuel Lubezki is the cinematographer in question and this is only the cherry on the cake of his extensive career. From Sleepy Hollow to Children of Men to Gravity to Birdman, this man may have just done his best work of his entire life.
Besides DiCaprio, there is some fine acting from everyone else involved in the film. As I briefly mentioned, Tom Hardy is also quite excellent (his speech about religion is amazing). Immediately, he is able to make his character completely unlikeable and you know he is someone that will act as the catalyst to the main plotline of DiCaprio’s attempt at survival. Hardy is at times calm and then suddenly a violent psychopath and it makes his character very unnerving to watch at times. There is also some solid supporting work from Will Poulter, who surprised me a great deal because I just knew him as that goofy and funny kid from We’re the Millers. Here he plays a compassionate soldier and friend to DiCaprio who is caught in an awkward situation early in the film and must swiftly react to it. Domhnall Gleason does some good work as the kind but stern captain. There is not really a weak link in the entire field of actors. It is also a breath of fresh air to see some actual Natives playing Native roles for once. I’m not the type of person that cries out ‘whitewashing’ at any given moment but this film felt much more realistic and natural with actual Native tribes playing… well, members of Native tribes. They were represented well and in a light similar to that of the white characters. You really get the sense that both sides of the battle are really just playing the hand they were dealt.
The violence and carnage in the film is unflinching and brutally realistic. Of course, many will talk about the initial incident in the film in which DiCaprio is brutalized by a giant grizzly bear and it is indeed a harrowing scene. I can safely assume that it will be one of the most disturbing violent scenes that most of you have witnessed in a film before because of its longevity and decidedly un-Hollywood way that it unfolds. Besides that, another one that really sticks out is the opening scene. We have a large-scale attack by a huge Native tribe that is filmed in such a way that the viewer feels as if they could get killed by these people anytime as well! The arrows used are an excellent film tool as they come suddenly and violently end people’s lives. They are so quiet that the moment they strike it makes the heart leap and then sink in agony. I don’t want to ruin too much but the finale is excellent and haunting as well and had the whole theatre on the edges of their seats.
Don’t miss this. It’s a sure-fire winner all around for everyone involved in this amazing film.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)