There is much to admire in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s tale of 1820s fur trappers and survival. Not least is the authenticity of the experience. It feels so cold they should hand out blankets as you enter. And the portrayal of native americans and the conditions of the early traders is captured without any modern gloss. This is what it felt and looked like one imagines. The cinematography is beautiful, at times it is like being immersed in a Tom Thompson painting. All this combines to make the first 40 minutes a genuine cinematic experience that captures all that is good about sitting in a darkened room with strangers watching made up shit on a giant screen.
The opening scene has been compared in terms of its visceral, immersive quality to that of Saving Private Ryan. But this also highlights a criticism too – after that bombshell of an opening, there is something of a anti-climactic feel. At times Revenant felt like a cricket test match – you could pop out, do some shopping, come back and nothing much had happened. The equivalent of “they’re following on” being “Di Caprio is being cold in a river”.
In the Battle of Cold, Long, Historical films, the Revenant is generally deemed to have been the victor over the Hateful 8. But my preference lies with Tarantino’s flawed masterpiece. The Revenant is earnest to an embarrassing degree at times. “Look, we mean it, man”, it declares with every Oscar beseeching grimace from Leo. “Respect us, admire us” it pleads, in the same way that Inarritu’s previous film “Birdman” really, really wanted you to think it was clever. Tarantino’s film by contrast says “fuck you, I’m having a blast here anyway.” And it is this neediness of the Revenant that ultimately left me cold. Or colder anyway.