There is a moment in The Revenant when Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) removes the innards from his dead horse and slips inside the carcass to escape the icy blast of winter.
It seems to sum up the mood of Alejandro González Iñárritu film and DiCaprio’s character. Moreover it seems to underline the fact that this is a serious film with a serious star seriously struggling for his art. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you this year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Well, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. But she should be warbling her head off at the sheer majesty of The Revenant and the control Iñárritu has over his subject and his cast.
The tale plays out against two parallel stories. Glass is a fur trapper attacked by a bear and left for dead by his partners, one of who murders his son. But he doesn’t die and, driven by thoughts of revenge, drags himself across the wilderness to confront the man responsible.
Based on a true story and anchored in a landscape that pre-dates the standardised notion of the American West – it’s not a Western but uses the vista in a manner that would make John Ford proud – it also presents a star stripped of all gloss and glory.
Thus mumbling Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) occupies one part of this harsh land, safe in the knowledge that he has no need to look over his shoulder. Then Glass, mind focused utterly on his prize, limps and stumbles through snow and ravaging Indians to look his tormentor in the eye.
Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, The Revenant offers DiCaprio a chance to emote (sometimes mutely) to the elements and the stars. When he is forced to fight it is often against his own physical weakness.
But the sheer spectacle of this mighty drama is in the mountains, rivers, forests and gorges that form its backdrop. The actors are almost incidental. Tony Earnshaw