3.5 out of 4 stars
With few words, Leonardo DiCaprio made the biggest statement of his career in The Revenant.
DiCaprio, whose supermodel good looks have landed him plenty of starring roles and even more beautiful women, has made a living talking. He chatted his way into high society in The Great Gatsby, connived his way out of trouble in The Departed, conned his way to millions in Catch Me If You Can and cussed like he was being paid per profanity in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Finally, he shows what he can do when he shuts up.
DiCaprio, who says maybe 600 words in the more than 2 1/2-hour film, has done everything there is to do in Hollywood, except the one thing that matters most: win an Oscar.
Just admit it: Leo, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are on the Mount Rushmore of men who have never won the golden grail for best actor. But don’t worry Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson: there could be a vacancy on that rock because DiCaprio’s latest work gives is his best chance to come off the list.
He’s infinitely better in The Revenant than he was in any of the three movies – The Wolf of Wall Street (2014), Blood Diamond (2007) and The Aviator (2006) – in which his performance earned him a nomination for industry’s most coveted statue.
In The Revenant, DiCaprio plays mythical mountain man Hugh Glass, an expert fur trapper travelling through unexplored land with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in the 1820s when Indians turn the Americans’ expedition to produce animal pelts into a bloody battle that rivals anything you’ve ever seen on screen. And that’s just in the first 15 minutes.
With the vast majority of his group dead, DiCaprio starts bringing The Revenant to life, one disturbing, gruesome chapter at time, all playing out in exquisite natural tableaus. If it isn’t DiCaprio’s throat and body getting slashed by a grizzly bear, it’s what happens to his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). If it isn’t DiCaprio being buried alive, it’s watching him resorting to eating raw animal guts to survive a harsh winter. And it gets much more grotesque than that – so much so an older lady at a screening left her seat and didn’t return. If you’re squeamish, go see Sisters.
The Revenant is one deprave scene after another, with DiCaprio basking in his mostly silent glory, the result of a bear’s claw piercing his larynx. DiCaprio’s perseverance through the most dire conditions to kill the man who murdered his son and left DiCaprio for dead will have you cheering for him by the time gets his chance for vengeance.
Hollywood is filled with tales of survival. Lord of the Flies. Schindler’s List. Alive. I am Legend. Unbroken. The list could easily keep going. But none sinks to the depths of The Revenant in terms detailing what man will do to live another day. Put it this way: Tom Hanks may of well been chilling at the Ritz Carlton in Cast Away compared to where DiCaprio is forced to spend a night in The Revenant.
DiCaprio is complemented well by a supporting cast that includes the leader of his Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Capt. Andrew Hardy (Domhnall Gleeson), who leaves a gravely wounded DiCaprio in the care of two other trappers – Bridger (Will Poulter) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who is very good at being very evil.
Mexican director Aalejandro G. Iñárritu, whose Birdman won four Oscars last year including for best picture and best director, deserves credit for telling a story in which the main character’s grunts outnumber words.
Iñárritu could very well be adding to his trophy case for superbly adapting the book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, a 2002 historical adventure by Michael Punke into the year’s best movie and positioning DiCaprio to win a much-deserved Oscar.
A win, to be sure, that won’t leave him speechless.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.