Somewhere, buried in two and a half hours of endless snow, is Leonardo DiCaprio's first Oscar statue.
The man works hard to earn it, and you, as a viewer, shoulder plenty of that load. "The Revenant" is a tough sit, not only because of its length, but its unrelenting nature and level of harsh, graphic gore that ranges from obscenely violent to "are you kidding me?"
And while DiCaprio turns in a career-defining performance that is a solid bet to prop up his drooping ego with a golden statue, it may be that he's not even the best actor in the movie. That honor falls to the grizzly wrassled with by his character, left-for-dead mountain man Hugh Glass.
A true marvel of CGI, the bear -- played with ferocity by stuntman Glenn Ennis in a mo-cap suit -- is stunningly realistic. Its movements and animations are so convincing that you're practically smothered in its musk and cringing from the claws scratching on your back. Leo's fight with the bear is one of the defining cinematic moments of our time, and you can bet that anyone hardcore enough to order this movie on Blu-ray will do so just to watch it over and over again. It takes willpower not to whip out your cell phone and record the struggle like you would a car fire you happen upon. Movie moments don't get much better than this. This one certainly doesn't.
"The Revenant" is more of a film to respect from a distance than enjoy. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is a wizard of a filmmaker who uses his powers to awe and punish. A despairing, lonely quest, Glass is obsessed to survive a succession of harrowing obstacles, just for the reward of enduring another succession of hellish trials. The makeup crew deserves credit for twisting a pretty boy actor into a twisted piece of indigestible gristle.
The film unfolds without handholding or exposition. You're thrown into the elements without long johns or a winter cap, left stunned to gawk at the tortured protagonist, who wills his way through certain death to exact revenge at the person he deems responsible for his plight. If there's meaning to Glass's quest, it's left for you to discern and pontificate, in cold, calm climes.
Glass cares nothing for explanation or justification. Noiseless except for the occasional primal grunt, he survives and thrives not by fighting the elements, but by letting his humanity dissolve away to the point that he becomes one with them.
Is "The Revenant" a good movie? That's as tough to decipher as the higher purpose of Glass's struggle. It's art worthy of respect, and just as much fear. Technically, it could be better, and could have benefitted from tighter editing and a more cohesive yarn.
The film is out to buckle your knees, twist your stomach and cling to your armrest for sweet assurance that you're in a warm theater, not stuck in the cold. Give it credit for that much, and be happy when it fades away into end credits.
RATING: 2.5 STARS OUT OF 4
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