If film awards were bestowed for determination and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, The Revenant would sweep next month’s Oscars.
Mexican auteur Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu chose to shoot his sprawling historical epic in chronological order using natural light.
These bold aesthetic choices limited filming to just a couple of hours each day and when Mother Nature decided to withhold snow from the unforgiving Canadian wilderness, the entire production moved to Argentina at considerable expense.
Actor Tom Hardy was forced to drop out of the comic book adventure Suicide Squad to accommodate the extended filming schedule, the budget ballooned and one crew member famously described the mood on set as ‘a living hell’.
Trials and tribulations behind the scenes haven’t tarnished Inarritu’s audacious vision because The Revenant is a tour-de-force of technical brio and emotionally cold storytelling.
It’s not a journey into the heart of darkness for the sentimental or faint of heart.
Explosions of violence are graphic and a horrifying bear attack early in the film unfolds in a single, unbroken take that shreds our nerves beyond repair.
Leading man Leonardo DiCaprio puts himself through the wringer for his art.
In one stomach-churching scene, the fervent vegetarian eats a wild bison’s liver on camera because the role demands it.
Such unswerving dedication makes him a deserved frontrunner for the Academy Award – and has just earned him a Golden Globe.
He plays 19th-century explorer Hugh Glass, who guides a team of fur trappers and hunters under the command of Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson).
The men come under attack from Native Americans led by tribal chief Elk Dog (Duane Howard), whose daughter Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk’o) has been kidnapped.
The interlopers flee for their lives and Glass is subsequently injured in a mauling from a grizzly bear, which is protecting its cubs.
Henry leaves behind two men, Fitzgerald (Hardy) and Bridger (Will Poulter), to tend to Glass and his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), while the rest of the trappers head for safety.
‘Glass is to be cared for... as long as necessary,’ orders the Captain, ‘and a proper burial when it’s time. He’s earned that.’
Fitzgerald decides to expedite matters by killing Hawk and dragging Glass’ near lifeless body into a freshly dug grave.
The explorer regains consciousness some time later and vows to hunt down the men who killed his boy.
‘I ain’t afraid to die,’ growls Glass. ‘I done it already.’
The Revenant is a gruelling two and a half hours in the company of a filmmaker who refused to compromise.
Aided by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman), Inarritu conjures a nightmarish and unflinching vision of a grieving father’s revenge mission.
DiCaprio is mesmerising, dragging his wounded body across frozen landscapes before locking horns with Hardy’s scowling rival in an adrenaline-pumped climax that leaves us gasping for air.