***1/2 out of ****
If Tarantino intended The Hateful Eight to show everyone what they’d be losing by retiring traditional cinematic techniques, then Alejandro González Iñárritu (fresh after making Birdman) is clearly on a roll showing everyone what is to be gained in using the newest digital cameras while utilizing the best CGI available to create hypnotizing immersive environments more real than you’ve ever seen on the big screen.
The Revenant is a breathtakingly visceral experience portraying the old American frontier as an unforgiving place in a time of greed, carnage and desperate survival conditions. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki continue their collaborative production of unbelievably long takes with the most magical looking of natural lighting.
Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of a hunter working while trying to protect his half-Pawnee son (Forrest Goodluck) gives the kind of performance that seems more like a sport than the complex emoting normally honored in the profession of acting. What he does is clearly a physically strenuous ordeal that could ruin a human being. He deserves high praise but it’s almost unfair to compare his work to the other great performances of the year –including his co-star Tom Hardy who does some of the finest acting of his career in this film.
The film's story of fur trappers ambushed by natives collaborating with French trappers and the endurance of DiCaprio’s character after he’s left for dead is blessedly more of a rich spectacle than a narrative experience. This movie reminded me of the perfectly stewed atmosphere in Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, the spiritual struggles of Terrence Malick’s The New World, the mad poetry of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and the masochism of Mel Gibson’s Apolcalypto.
If that last comparison seems less impressive, it’s because the film does fall short in its last-minute claim that it is a revenge story. Everything leading up to its clichéd climax feels bigger than the final scene’s straightforward verbal exchanges and surface-level messages. This is a movie that borders on greatness and demands to be seen on a huge screen –if you can stomach its deliberately punishing characteristics.