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The Revenant

Year: 2015
Production Co: Anonymous Content
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Alejandro G Iñárritu
Producer: Steve Golin/Alejandro G Iñárritu/Arnon Milchan/Mary Parent
Writer: Mark L Smith/Alejandro G Iñárritu/Michael Punke
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

Of everything there is to love about and be fascinated by in this film, one aspect is the way it signifies how the political mood in the world has changed.

In the golden days of the Western curated by the likes of John Ford and John Wayne, the injuns were usually cannon fodder – filthy, Godless and worthy of little more than a white man's bullet as Wayne and his contemporaries carried out America's manifest destiny.

Then came a far more enlightened political time in the 80s and 90s when depicting Native Americans as the bad guys to oppose the good guy cowboys felt as anachronistic as it was disrespectful. Along with other political correctness movements around the world like that of Australia's attitudes to its own indigenous people, Native Americans were depicted as peace loving victims of white greed and selfish expansionism (see Dances With Wolves, et al).

Now, suddenly, in service of darkly violent and gritty cinema, we can depict the local Native American tribes and the fur trappers they attack with equal savagery, arrows whistling out of the foggy forests with such force they nearly split heads and bodies in two as the desperate trappers fire woefully inadequate guns into the mist.

(In fact the much talked-about bear attack is similar; we've heard about destruction of the habitat of large animals for so long it became very unfashionable to depict them as dangerous or violent. Just like Native Americans dealing with white settlers encroaching on their living by hunting and trading pelts, the bear is a monster, the attack scene truly terrifying).

That's how The Revenant opens, and it's a strong statement about the film's creative intentions about mood and violence. The story is kind of simple – after the tracker of the company, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), is mortally and shockingly wounded in a bear attack, fellow hunter John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) kills Glass' beloved half-breed son and then leaves Glass for dead with his injuries so they don't have to keep carrying him around, burying him alive in the frozen ground. Hanging to life by a thread, Glass digs himself out and goes on a mission of revenge.

Even if the story is simple, the magic is in the cinematography, the choreography of both the stillness and violent action and the stunning depiction of a cold, unforgiving land.

By now stories about the making of the movie are legend – about how the shoot blew out from a couple of months to eight months, how much the cast and crew suffered (tales about bitter resignations swirled around the film like the snowdrifts in it) and how it all happened because of Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu's determination to find completely unspoiled scenery and shoot only in natural light.

It's all about contrasts. There are quite stunning dichotomies between brutality and calm, between colours (the desolate whites of endless snows and splashes of blood) and between contrasting visual languages – some scenery shots are long and wide to depict the endless breadth of the landscape and some are so curved and close in it almost looks like Iñárritu and his legendary cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have used fish-eye lenses.

The land the characters find themselves in is portrayed not just visually but through every gesture and word of dialogue, the colour palette and every other creative element – harsh, frosty and pinched.

And once again, DiCaprio proves himself the most talented actor in Hollywood when it comes to at least one discipline – picking the best projects with the best directors.

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