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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Take Home THE REVENANT

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'The Revenant' on Blogcritics.

While watching the Oscars each year, there are always films near the top of the pack that really don’t feel like they’re good enough to me to be honored with a nomination. However, The Revenant, winner of three Academy Awards, does not fall into that category; it is worthy of every distinction given to it. And it has just been released on Ultra 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD,

The Revenant tells the story of fur hunter Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio, who finally and deservedly won Best Actor Award), mauled by a bear and left to die in the wilderness, and his revenge-fueled tale of survival. (I don’t feel it’s giving anything away to mention the bear because if you speak of this movie to anyone, the bear is the first thing they know about it, and it happens very early on.) Despite his severe injuries, Hugh hunts John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, Inception, Mad Max: Fury Road) across snow-covered forest and mountains, trying to get to the man who wronged him in the deepest of ways.

At the edge of the story is another fascinating character, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Brooklyn). Henry is the leader of the expedition on which Glass gets injured, and comes back into the story later on. His morality and character are noteworthy, managing to stand out in an otherwise narrowly focused narrative. While Glass and Fitzgerald take most of the screen time, along with Will Poulter’s (We’re the Millers) Bridger, Henry is always on the fringe, and perhaps not equally interesting, but definitely notable. Gleeson, first making his mark in the Harry Potter series, has had an arguably unparalleled year in film, but I’m glad he had time to squeeze this one in, too.

In my opinion, this movie is incredibly hard to watch, and you likely will not yearn for a repeat viewing anytime soon. But it’s also one of the most impressive, well-made films I’ve seen. The story is wonderfully crafted, and while the main thrust is basic, it manages to keep the details unpredictable. The acting is superb, of course, and you really feel what the characters are going through, which is rough enough to spur the discomfort mentioned earlier. It’s a very visceral thing to sit through, making it more an experience than a passive watching, and there is little to nothing to complain about in the film itself.

The direction and score are spectacular. Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman) took the directing Oscar for good reason. From the sweeping visual landscapes to the close ups in the most dramatic moments, there is no choice made that will leave you questioning Inarritu’s abilities. This is all enhanced, of course, in high definition, which really makes the trees and rivers and snowflakes pop into being, feeling real, and the music sing crisply in your ears. Most of the action takes place outside, and the ambient noise is excellently balanced. Watching at home made me wish I had a 4K set to truly get the most out of the presentation, but blu-ray is satisfying enough, too. The mixing is flawless, and no shot is bad.

Where this release utterly fails is in extras. There are two on the disc – an unnecessary photo gallery and a 45-minute documentary called “A World Unseen” that is light on insight and heavy on environmental protection arguments. Previously released on YouTube, “A World Unseen” doesn’t give us much about how the film was made, but does have a strong, clear message as to what it wants to say. I’m not saying the message is a bad one, but it’s not what one is looking for to learn more about The Revenant. In a film that has so many interesting elements and that does things no other movie has done, I expected a boatload of material on locations, special effects, story development, and the like, and am utterly disappointed by the lack of offerings.

Despite that, though, I still recommend The Revenant; it’s just that good. I feel like it shows us things about what film making can do that many of us didn’t realize before. For that reason, it’s worth a watch.

The Revenant is available to own now.

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