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Hugh Glass

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Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from ‘The Revenant.’ Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

By Zachary Hank

Leonardo DiCaprio has already received much critical acclaim for his performance in “The Revenant.” After  winning the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, his sights are set on the upcoming Academy Awards on Feb. 28 where he may take home his first Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The film itself has experienced an outstanding response, receiving 12 nominations for the 2016 Oscars, including best picture, best director, cinematography and visual effects.

Based on actual events, “The Revenant” tells the story of fur trapper Hugh Glass. Set in 1823 in the early American territories of Montana and South Dakota, the film recounts Glass’ recovery from a bear mauling and retribution against his companions who killed his son and left him for dead.

It is undeniable the amount of preparation put into this film by each of the actors, but what also stands out is the fantastic camera work, directing and special effects in the film as well. Simply put, the film is gorgeous, absolutely beautiful in almost every shot. The film is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose latest success was last year’s “Birdman.” As in that film, the camera work feels very clean and natural. There are also multiple times in both films when the shots of surroundings and setting occupy a few minutes of screen time, but in “The Revenant’s” case, these landscapes and scenery shots feel absolutely breathtaking.

The movie does a fantastic job at encasing the viewer within whatever setting is present. If it is a crowded, claustrophobic forest, then you’ll feel the same sense of paranoia and suspense as the characters do. Every shadow, every minimal sound and every minor detail is caught with remarkable precision. The bear mauling is very realistic and the special effects feel lifelike. Overall, “The Revenant” is hands down one of the most visually stunning films of the last few years. Now, with all these aesthetics praised, there comes a matter of addressing the film’s plot.

Although the film is based on actual events, it can’t be blamed for the screenwriters developing a weak plot. They did a lot with what they had, and that happens to be one of the film’s downfalls. Originally, there was a relatively simple story. However, it has been stretched to make an epic of two and a half hours; and the film really doesn’t have as much emotional depth or, truthfully, any real amount of depth to justify this amount of screen time.

While it may be more realistic to witness Glass’s recovery and journey in almost real time, it’s simply not worth watching the man struggle to learn to walk again for about half an hour.

Clearly, this is a very ambitious film of a story that did not warrant this scale of production, but that seemed to be the film Iñárritu wanted to  make. So while there’s not an overlying truth or revelation to be found within the actual story other than be careful not to be mauled by a bear, Iñárritu twists this plot to exploit the suffering and cruelty toward Native Americans by European settlers, especially the French.

Sure, Glass’ son was half Native American, but in reality the story does not have much to do with racial issues, and Iñárritu’s inclusion of multiple plot lines of the French and their interactions with local Native Americans doesn’t feel anything more than an attempt to make a statement on something that really didn’t have much relevance to the story’s plot. Yes, Glass does have these flashbacks to a Native American village being burned down and the death of his wife in the flames, but then again, the flashbacks themselves aren’t entirely necessary and sometimes just feel pointless. They’re overly sentimental and just feel forced.

Still, even needless flashbacks can have an impact if they’re brought on by dynamic performances. Everyone in this film does a pretty good job. Tom Hardy in the role of John Fitzgerald, an adversary of Glass, really delivers a fantastic performance and is probably the most deserving of being nominated for Best Supporting Actor this year.

Now for the lead. It’s impossible to critique DiCaprio’s preparation and dedication to this role. He’s clearly put the work in and it’s pretty much what you would expect. If you weren’t sold on him before, maybe you will be now, but in reality it still feels like DiCaprio up there — he has a personality that can’t be shaken and seems to follow him to each role.

Many people are rooting for DiCaprio to win an Academy Award for the first time, and chances are he’ll probably do so as “The Revenant,” which may be a bit overblown, is definitely one of the most stunning and well-acted films of the year. If you don’t mind sitting through stretches of time with nothing really happening, then chances are you’ll be rewarded by some fantastic elements.

“The Revenant” is rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.