Alejandro G. Iñárritu's bid for a consecutive Best Director and Best Picture win is a revenge drama that was as beautiful as it was violent and cold. Despite a ferociously committed performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, a finely nuanced villain in Tom Hardy, as well as Emmanuel Lubezki's gorgeous cinematography, the film's screenplay was just too skeletal to be stretched out over 156 minutes with Iñárritu sacrificing characterisation and authenticity for spectacle, shock and gimmicks.
The first thing that comes into mind in comparison with this film was how like Park Chan-wook's The Vengeance Trilogy this felt like. Like the trilogy, this was a violent tale of revenge, but unlike the Korean films, there was a lack of emotional resonance in its characters. Also, the ending was too heroically unrealistic and Hollywood-esque which robbed the film of the authenticity that Iñárritu and DiCaprio tried so hard to achieve.
Iñárritu definitely knows how to tell a story, but unlike last year's Birdman, The Revenant's lead character was under-characterised and although sympathetic, was hardly relatable. That was mainly because of the increasingly difficult situations that he encountered, and survived. There seemed to be some sense of un-realness and inexplicability.
However, there were a number of scenes that stood out, although over time, Iñárritu's long takes are getting more gimmicky than anything else. The bear-fight scene was possibly one of the most harrowing moment on screen, and the final fight scene was beautifully choreographed.
DiCaprio, without a doubt, really wants that Oscar! And based on this year's nominees (with the exception of Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs), it will surely be his. He gave a highly committed and silently eloquent performance throughout. That sort of dedication deserved to be rewarded. However, if based solely on "skill of acting", then DiCaprio loses out to his fellow nominee Hardy.
Hardy gave a superbly nuanced performance as the main antagonist of the story. And realistically, his ending should have been a whole lot different. Nonetheless, Hardy's story was actually equally as riveting as DiCaprio's portion despite not having to endure as much hardship. That is a testament to his ability as an actor. And perhaps, the members of the Academy may reward him (together with his impressive 2015 body of work - Mad Max: Fury Road and Legend), although he definitely faces steep competition in Mark Rylance, Slyvester Stallone, Mark Ruffalo and Christian Bale (in that order).
Domhall Gleeson is really having a great run of films, although it seemed that his ginger-hair is getting him typecast. Young Will Poulter would have made a terrifying Pennywise.
Lubezki will almost surely get his third consecutive Oscar for Best Cinematography for his utterly gorgeous lensing of the wild winter hinterlands. At times it almost felt like watching a National Geographic moment. Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight) and Roger Deakins (Sicario) are his closest competitors.
Surprisingly the music by Ryuichi Sakamoto (with addition music by Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto) was not nominated. In a largely silent film, Sakamoto's score was haunting and resonant, although there were times that it was too on the nose and became distracting from the beauty on the screen.
The Oscar race this year is still as open as ever. The Revenant will score a win for DiCaprio for his committed performance, and maybe score Iñárritu his second Oscar for this technically challenging shoot, but either The Big Short or Spotlight may triumph over it for its overall story. Then of course there is the black horse in the guise of George Miller and his superb Mad Max: Fury Road.