Movie Feature | Reasons to See The Revenant (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Freda Cooper 01.03.2016

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The Revenant (UK Rating: 15)

The Revenant had been the runaway favourite for this year's Oscars. In the event, the early hours of Monday morning didn't entirely follow the script, with it taking two of the top awards - Best Director and Best Actor - alongside Best Cinematography. Just a few more to add to its collection of over 60, including BAFTAs and Golden Globes, but it's also been a Box Office success in the UK, never venturing outside of the Top 10 since its launch in January, and bringing in takings of over £21 million.

It's still going strong, and this weekend's wins won't do that any harm. There are reasons why it's worth the price of a ticket, but also some that pose questions over its success.

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Di Caprio's Performance

All of the talk was about this being "Leo's year" and that, despite four previous nominations, he'd never won an Oscar. Who cares! The question was whether or not Di Caprio actually deserved to win, especially in a category that included the likes of Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs and Bryan Cranston in Trumbo. All of the other nominees had plenty of dialogue to play with - Fassbender, in particular, courtesy of Aaron Sorkin - but Di Caprio had the bare minimum, relying instead on his body and the occasional guttural noise. As an actor, he was stretched to the limit and delivered.

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A Sensory Experience

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki was the frontrunner for the Oscar and also achieved the rare distinction of winning three years on the trot: Birdman (2014) and Gravity (2013) were also his. For The Revenant, he produced something that works both on the most epic and most intimate of scales. His landscapes underline the brutal, unwelcoming nature of the world. It isn't made for men, and doesn't want them there, yet, at the same time, it's exceptionally beautiful in its savagery, but the use of sound is equally superb, making the film a genuinely sensory experience. The crispness of frozen rain falling on snow, the creaking of trees in the wind, and the driving rain all enhance the reality of the setting - it's a brilliant technical achievement. The terrain is speaking for itself.

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The Human Spirit

There's no way that The Revenant is a "feel good" movie, but it's certainly a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the will to live. Di Caprio's character cheats death on a number of occasions, simply because of his determination to survive. His motivation might be questionable at times, but that force of will is impressive.

Cinematic and dramatic skill is reason enough for seeing it, as well as its inspiring nature, but what about those questions marks?

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Headline Grabbing

The Revenant came perilously close to being Oscar bait, but not because of an all-star cast and melodramatic storyline. With its bear mauling, quick snack of raw buffalo liver, and Leo hiding inside the fresh carcass of his horse to keep warm, it was full of spectacular stories and a PR person's dream. The media was only too happy to oblige and lapped them up. The voting members of the American Academy can't have been able to ignore all that coverage, but the fact that they resisted it brings a certain satisfaction. Best Picture, in the end, went to the quieter, sincere and deeply thought-provoking Spotlight, and the general consensus is that they got it right.

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Taking Itself Seriously

This is one film that really does take itself seriously, so much so that anybody with a wicked sense of humour might be tempted to re-name it I'm Di Caprio: Get Me Out of Here! His character has a truly terrible time, lurching from one battering to another. There's the mauling from that famous bear, but there's plenty more: he also rides his horse over a steep escarpment and crash lands into a tree, is sent tumbling over a waterfall, plus has a savage and prolonged fight with his arch enemy. At a quick estimate, he has nine major life threatening ordeals. A coincidence?

Image for Movie Feature | Reasons to See The Revenant (Lights, Camera, Action!)
The Revenant is spectacular cinema that demands to be seen on the big screen, and there are plenty of good reasons why it was such a powerful contender in this year's awards. Films like this don't often do well at the Box Office - maybe the bear deserves recognition for that - but, ultimately, it lost out at the Oscars to another film that took itself seriously, and with good reason. Spotlight is still in cinemas, as well, so there's only one way to understand the difference…and that's first hand. It's cinema to relish.

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